MERIDEN — Karen Gomez might seem like an ordinary teen getting ready for her first year of college in the fall.
But the 17-year-old city resident has been doing more than preparing for college — she has done more than 450 hours of community service during high school, an achievement she was recognized for as one of eight students that received education awards from Midstate Chamber of Commerce late last month.
Rosanne Ford, president of the Midstate Chamber, said the requirement for community service was 20 hours.
“She far exceeded that, and it’s especially nice to see that she completed hours with Midstate Chamber members like Gallery 53,” Ford said.
Ford said she wishes Gomez the best at Quinnipiac University and hopes to see her involved in the local business community in the future.
Gomez was born in the United States, but her parents were born in Mexico. Her roots led her to start learning mariachi music.
She has done most of her community service hours at the Wallingford-based Mariachi Academy of New England. After learning the music, Gomez began volunteering to teach others about the music and how to play the violin.
“My favorite part is helping the kids... ” she said. “When I was younger, I always wanted someone who was around my age and could help motivate me to continue learning so I wanted to be that (person) for the students.”
Gomez started at the academy when she was 15, but has been been studying music in school since fourth grade.
Adam Romo, executive director of the Mariachi Academy of New England, said Gomez is one of the group’s top players and volunteers. When new students join the academy, Gomez is always around to help. He looks forward to working with her in the future.
According to the group’s website, its mission is “to strengthen and bridge communities by enhancing children's knowledge and appreciation of music, Spanish language, and Hispanic culture in the New England region.”
During her volunteer work at Gallery 53, she helped create a mosaic representing Meriden.
Gomez has also volunteered at St. Rose of Lima Parish, where she has helped with vacation bible camps. She enjoyed the experience because she could help campers create friendship and connections. Gomez attended the camp when she was younger and wanted to share the positive experience with others.
In addition to her volunteer work, Gomez played soccer and was involved in school clubs such as the Art Club and Skills USA — which helped her become a certified nurse’s aide.
Gomez plans to major in nursing and pursue a minor in Spanish at Quinnipiac. Her ultimate goal is to become a pediatric pulmonologist.
Her own “severe asthma” growing up prompted her to choose a medical career, she said.
“I spent a lot of my childhood in hospitals and seeing how my pulmonologist created care plans for me, it really inspired me and made me curious about the healthcare field,” she said.