Veteran Selected for National Leadership Institute

Single mother Margarita Soto has had her share of challenges from health issues to domestic violence and homelessness to dealing with the fact that her beloved niece is missing. However, what makes this student veteran stand out from the crowd is not her trials but the fact that she is always helping others overcome obstacles.

To those who know her it came as no surprise that the new president of the Collin College chapter of the Student Veterans of America (SVA) was one of 100 veterans from across the country selected to attend the SVA’s 2017 Leadership Institute. She and fellow attendees from colleges across the country including Purdue, Georgetown, Cornell University and George Washington University were selected as the highest performing student veterans in higher education. Soto participated in close to 15 hours of intensive leadership training from business and industry leaders including the 43rd U.S. president George W. Bush.

“I started crying when I saw him. I worked on Crawford Ranch when I was on active duty. I was in communications, so we set up his backup radio. It was awesome to have been on active duty at the president’s ranch. He talked about principles and values and how that’s what he thought about when they made decisions. I’ve been watching him, and he is continually helping veterans. That is inspiring for me,” Soto said.

Serving Others

Soto served four years in the Army, 2000-2004, as a specialist and was a squad leader in her platoon. As a veteran, she continued to serve her country through volunteering opportunities ranging from Spanish translation to sharing her personal story through speeches. For the last three years, she has served as a platoon leader for The Mission Continues. She and other veterans, numbering close to 200, have focused their attention on Roger Q. Mills Elementary School in south Dallas, creating an outdoor classroom and library, building picnic tables, refurbishing the nurse’s office, painting the teachers’ lounge, planting trees and working with T-Mobile on a book drive.

“This is the zip code with the highest teen pregnancies, highest sexually transmitted infections for young kids and highest number of single mothers. A lot of grandparents are raising the kids, and a lot of the kids are poor. The staff at that school is giving their all. We got a washer and dryer donated, and they wash the kids’ clothes at school. I am sold on the idea of volunteering. Our mission is to help the community, not just veterans.”

Identifying as a veteran was not an easy thing for Soto. She shared her experiences as a speaker for Attitudes and Attire’s Boots to Heels program tailored to women in the military community and received a special gift of acceptance from female veterans.

“I was telling my story to approximately 300 civilians, and I shared that when I went to the Boots to Heels workshop I told the people near me that I didn’t identify as a veteran because I didn’t serve overseas. On my left was a one-star female general and on my right was a grandmother who served in Iraq. They told me, ‘You are a vet,’ and I said, ‘Ok, I get it,’ she said laughing.

“I wish every female veteran could sit in a room with other female veterans because we deal with so much and sweep it under the rug. I would love to have a home for homeless vets because many homeless vets are single moms,” she said.

A Leading Lady with a Bright Future

Soto was right at home at the SVA Leadership Institute because the first day they volunteered at Equest therapy ranch.

“What is great about Equest is that they have the Hooves for Heroes therapy program for vets with Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) and their family members. I don’t call it PTSD because it comes and goes. When President Bush was talking to us he mentioned PTS and said, “Did you notice I dropped the ‘D.’ It is not a disorder,’” she said.

Networking with veterans and learning from experts inspired Soto, who plans to earn her associate of science degree from Collin College and transfer to earn a bachelor’s degree in social work. Now, she is more excited than ever to lead by example.

“Everybody there realized that there is more work to be done, but it has to be led by us. To be in a room with so many vets from around the nation was so rewarding. I wish everyone from the SVA was there,”said Soto, who is already networking with a veteran from Philadelphia on a project.