Senior Yessenia Mendieta trains to become a police officer

June 9, 2020

Driving around Marin, or any place in the world, sirens wail and police cars whiz by in an attempt to serve and protect their local communities. For many high school seniors, the typical path after graduating is to continue their educational journey at a four year college or university. However, for senior Yessenia Mendieta, or “Chenna” for short, the road after graduation looks very different; known by her friends and family as hard-working and charismatic, Mendieta has chosen to dedicate her time to help others as a police officer. 

Growing up, Mendieta had dreamed about becoming a cop, but her decision to seriously work toward that goal was not made until her sophomore year. The first step in becoming an officer is through the police academy in Terra Linda. However despite her early ambitions, because the age requirement is eighteen, she was forced to wait until the spring of her senior year to apply. Once she was able to do so this March, within three weeks of submitting her application, she received the news that she had been accepted. 

“When I got in, they told me I was a perfect fit. I haven’t been able to do much work for them so far because of the coronavirus, but I have done some undercover work. I have gone into liquor stores with a fake ID and tried to purchase alcohol to see if vendors would sell it to me. It was my job to call the cops and tell them if they sold alcohol to me even though I am underage and used a fake ID,” Mendieta said.

Through the police academy, Mendieta will participate in training programs, like the undercover work, that will introduce her to the fundamentals of law enforcement and prepare her to become a police officer. Additionally, she plans to get her associates degree in administrative law through an online course. After completing the academy as an intern—a three month process—Mendieta will become a cadet, where she will continue to study locally under the guidance of sworn police officers. 

“I hope to gain real life experience from being in the police academy, where I am exposed to different situations and people,” Mendieta said. “My goal is to become a police officer by the time I am twenty, which is hard, but definitely doable. What I need to accomplish is to stay in shape and finish the academy on time.”

In high school, Mendieta was a three year varsity basketball player, and according to coach Diane Peterson, the skills and discipline she demonstrated throughout her basketball career will help her be successful as a law enforcement officer.

“Chenna never settles. She is an incredibly hard worker. I think it will definitely translate over into her career. As far as her work ethic and striving to be better and do better, and given that she is so passionate about this field of work, I think that is only going to accelerate her learning the job and executing it,” Peterson said.

In addition to her eagerness to learn and to serve the public, Mendieta is also a very caring leader, according to junior and teammate Stella Neuschul.

Gaining experience as a three year varsity basketball player, Mendieta has translated her leadership and collaborative skills into her career as a police officer. (Courtesy of Yessenia Mendieta)

“Chenna cares so much about her friends, people in general and definitely the community at large,” Neuschul said. “I remember from this past season how there was always something waiting for us in the team room that had something inspiring to say, which just shows how strong her dedication to us is, and I think that will pass over into her work at becoming a police officer.”

While one way of showing her consideration for her community is by becoming an officer, Mendieta has also been raising money for underprivileged families struggling to make ends meet during COVID-19, exemplifying her hospitality and kindness.

“My godmother runs a daycare center, and she put up a GoFundMe page for people to donate money to their families. The majority of them are undocumented, so they can’t get the stimulus checks from the government. I asked anyone I knew if they could donate however much they could afford to help these families pay their rent, get them food, and really just meet their basic needs during this time. We ended up raising around $29,000 and we helped at least 20 families, which was amazing,” Mendieta said.

Despite the obstacle that the coronavirus has placed on her work at the police academy, Mendieta has continued to find ways to assist the struggling people around her, which, according to Peterson, is one of the reasons why she would make an excellent officer. 

“I think that she has a way of connecting and communicating with people, and she has so much empathy with anyone who might be having a tough time,” Peterson said. “I think in this line of work, you have to have compassion and try to help people better themselves, and I think that is something she really cares deeply about and always shows.”

With her generosity and her diligent work ethic, Mendieta continues to persevere and live out her childhood dream.

“I am very determined. If I have a goal, I am definitely going to work to get there, even if there are bumps in the road. I remember Coach [Peterson] would tell me ‘You can’t just say you are going to [become a police officer], you really have to take action and do it.’ That helped me to go out of my way to talk to police officers and join the academy. I think my motivation and dedication will really lead to my future successes in my career.”

 

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