At 17 years old, Isaac Ortiz is doing what most high school seniors are doing: college applications, soccer and cross-country practice, homework.
But in November, all eyes will be on Isaac when he takes the chair as Speaker of the House at the annual YMCA Youth Assembly at the state Capitol in Atlanta.
Isaac’s been preparing for this position for a year — ever since he was voted by his peers to fill the role at last year’s assembly. He’s the first Latino and the first teen from Savannah to hold the position.
Audrey Rodriguez, who is Isaac’s aunt and director of youth development at the YMCA of Coastal Georgia, said she has had multiple teens try to get one of the noteworthy positions during her five years leading the Teen Achievers’ group — including governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the house — but Isaac is the first to win his campaign.
As a child, Isaac said, he experienced a “clash of cultures.”
His mother came to the U.S. from Venezuela when she was just 10 years old. His father came from Morelia, Mexico, when he was 17. Both sides of his family are involved in the restaurant business in Savannah with Rancho Alegre Cuban Restaurant and Tequila’s Town Mexican Restaurant.
“It was me going to school every day and learning from my friends and getting American culture but also going home and speaking Spanish at home and eating Hispanic food,” he said. “It was a very different lifestyle.
“It was also a very soccer-oriented lifestyle.”
Isaac grew up playing soccer and still plays for his school, Savannah Christian.
Soccer led him to get involved with the YMCA, and while he doesn’t play soccer with the YMCA anymore, he said he still enjoys working out there and being involved with the Teen Achievers program.
Teen Achievers is a free, multi-cultural program that prepares teens for college and the workforce. They meet twice a month for workshops focused on topics like business, communication, law, military and government, among others. The teens also have opportunities to hear from different university representatives and people working in some of the career fields mentioned.
Isaac got involved with both the Youth Assembly and the YMCA Model United Nations program through Teen Achievers.
At the Youth Assembly, as Speaker of the House, Isaac will monitor the debate on the floor. Before the assembly, Isaac will add to his current workload dozens of bills and resolutions that other teens across Georgia have been writing for the past year.
The assembly allows the teens in attendance to address current social issues such as marijuana legalization and healthcare reform. Isaac said he’s excited about being around people who are as passionate at solving problems as he is.
“Even if it’s just mock,” he said. “I love it. There’s the atmosphere of hard work and hard thinking all the time.”
“Some of the students have never been out of the Savannah area, so it exposes them to the city, their government and they sometimes get to ride the metro,” Rodriguez said.
As the first Latino teen to hold the position of Speaker, Isaac said there are high expectations for him.
“It feels like I have a lot of expectation to live up to,” he said. “I think I can show people that (Latinos) are not just another minority — and that all people have valuable opinions.”
“(Latinos) need to break the barrier that society holds for us,” he said. “We need to take a leadership role.”
He said he’s excited to be the first teen from the Savannah area to hold the position.
“I love my city — it’s where I was raised. And I want to go up there and make everyone proud.”
After the assembly, Isaac will continue filling out college applications and try to figure out what to do with his life. Currently, he’s debating law school, a political career or military service. He will also become an Eagle Scout by the end of November.
“We’re so excited to see everything flourish,” Rodriguez said. “His family, his school — everyone is so proud of him.”