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  • Age
    61
  • Occupation
    Manager, Accounting
  • Company
    Valero Energy
  • Location
    San Antonio, Texas

Sammy Nieto was heading up Valero’s volunteer committee in 1997 when a local judge invited him to come spend a day in juvenile court and listen in on truancy cases. There, he heard stories of students facing one hardship after another—family abuse, parents who were on drugs, teen pregnancies, the pressure of gangs; now those same kids were facing fines or jail time for skipping school. Nieto (shown above, holding microphone), who has spent the past 38 years at Valero, left the court “crying and in a state of shock,” but determined to intervene: That same year he founded the Valero Juvenile Justice Mentor Program, a partnership between his employer and local courts and schools. Judges have since ordered thousands of students to attend the program’s weekly curriculum of college prep classes and motivational speakers in lieu of punishment. Nieto has expanded the reach with counseling classes and mock court sessions held in schools. “These kids have hit rock bottom,” Nieto says. “We’re here to get them on the right road.”

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