A group of Latino youths are using this Thanksgiving holiday to serve the community while preparing for future careers in law enforcement or the Armed Forces.

Explorers, a program created by the Harris County Sheriff's Office in 2011, is made up of young people 14-21.

According to HCSO deputy Terry Garza, the Explorers' coordinator, the program is mainly about attracting young people to the law enforcement field.

"And they not only learn what police life is like, but also have access to the great many resources that different organizations offer to young people like them, from university scholarships to invitations to join the police forces of cities around the county," Garza told Efe.

Garza said that students take part in police-academy-style physical and tactical training.

"Though they don't carry guns, they run the same risk as police officers because they patrol some pretty dangerous parts of the district and people don't care if they're students or not," Garza said.

One of the requisites for remaining in the program is giving service to the community, typically as volunteers in HCSO-sponsored activities.

Elizabeth Puente is one of them. At 17 she has worked countless hours as a volunteer and that, she says, is what gives her the most personal satisfaction.

"It's a constant test, this thing of helping your neighbor, helping those who have the least. Showing people what resources are available to them is a job I like, it makes me feel like a better person," the high school junior told Efe.

These days she delivers baskets of basic foods so the needy will have something to put on the table for Thanksgiving dinner.

Jose Sanchez also lends a hand as a volunteer delivering food baskets to the poor.

"Part of my plan is be a cop or maybe join the army. And getting to know my community is very important," Sanchez said.

For Cynthia Carmona, 16, taking an active part in this program means setting aside her daily routine and proving to herself that a Latino girl can be as tough as circumstances require.

"At home my parents didn't agree with it, but they've gradually realized we're talking about my profession and my vocation, so now I have their support," Carmona said. 

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