What determines individual success? Perhaps an even more difficult variation of that question is, “How do we define success?” Those questions haunt sociologists, school administrators, politicians and anyone who desires to see positive development for individuals and communities. With so many variables that can influence growth, we have to wonder if there is a “magic bullet” that can truly impact the success of the people in our communities? While the question may befuddle the experts, a key component of the answer may be found right here in Alleghany County.
As a young girl, Monica Santos was a fixture on the regional fiddlers’ convention circuit. The Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) program at Piney Creek Elementary School uncovered her guitar skills. Her mother, Tina Jordan, understood the quality of Monica’s musical gift and bolstered her JAM lessons with private instruction with Bob Desanto of Galaz, Virginia. The results were 15-20 competition wins.
A change in family dynamics took Monica and her mom from Piney Creek when Monica was in the 5th grade. They spent a period time with Monica’s grandmother in the Whitehead community before they moved to Sparta. While in 8th grade, Monica became sweethearts with her future husband, Leo Torres.
Monica played volleyball her freshman year of high school and enjoyed the game. But, in her sophomore year volleyball gave way to work and she began waiting tables at Mis Arados, a restaurant in Sparta owned and managed by Leo’s family. Monica worked with the Torres family all through high school and until she completed college.
2014 was a pivotal year for Monica. She graduated from Alleghany High School that summer, and she and Leo were married in July. That fall, she began the nursing program at Wilkes Community College (WCC).
The WCC schedule and course load were challenging. Monica began her days with a one hour commute to the WCC campus in Wilkesboro. She simultaneously took prerequisite and nursing classes before wrapping up the school day with another one hour trip home. Once she was back in Sparta, it was off to Mis Arados for a shift of waiting tables. After her shift she headed home for 1-2 hours of homework. These days she shrugs off a full-time class load coupled with a 30-40 hours of waiting tables. But while in the throes of that grinding schedule, the thought of quitting college crossed her mind many times. She credits Leo with encouraging her through those rough spots and giving her the motivation to stick with her dream.
While Monica was balancing all those elements of life, Leo was also taking classes through the Basic Law Enforcement Training program at WCC. When he graduated and became a deputy with the Alleghany County Sheriff’s Office, Monica was able to scale back her restaurant work to what she describes as a more manageable 10-20 hour week.
Monica completed the nursing program in May of 2016 and passed her state exam a couple of weeks later. That June, she went to work as a floor nurse at the Alleghany Memorial Hospital (AMH). Once again, she felt overwhelmed. As she talks about those first weeks as a hospital nurse, the description is stacked with the sense of responsibility and accountability she felt towards her patients. She often found herself questioning her abilities and whether she could handle the emergencies that were sure to arise. And she wondered if she could deliver the kind of care she knew her patients deserved. Once again, Leo stepped in to encourage her that she was on the right path and that he believed it her.
These days a conversation with Monica offers no hint of self-doubt. She says quite confidently that AMH is a perfect fit for her. The size of the facility has given her a broad base of experience that would have taken months, even years, to attain in a larger hospital. Monica explains that this small size also allows her to give patients more personalized care than they would get in a more urban hospital. And working at AMH is something of a homecoming for Monica. Her patients are often surprised when she tells then she that was born in Alleghany Memorial Hospital.
Monica’s life journey to this point may offer us clues to that question of what determines success. She was fortunate to find herself in a youth music program where hard work and practice were expected and rewarded. Her mother recognized Monica’s musical giftedness and made sacrifices for private lessons to enhance that gift. When her family faced personal challenges, Monica’s extended family provided a safety net as they regained their footing. Her mother instilled and modeled a strong work ethic. A small elementary school gave her personalized attention and an enhanced sense of community. Wilkes Community College furnished the flexibility to balance work and education, while preparing her for a career of professional service. She married into a hardworking family of entrepreneurs that produced her husband who understands how to provide her encouragement when she needs it most. And now she works in an environment where she is supported by all levels of staff as she seeks to give back to her community.
A strong work ethic, a sense of delayed gratification, a safety net for life’s challenges, and a network of encouragers are crucial to individual success. As to the question of how we define success. We don’t have to look further than Monica Santos Torres.