Youth councilor Hugo Nicolas finds happiness, rewards in giving back to his community. (KEIZERTIMES/Jason Cox)

Of the Keizertimes

McNary senior Hugo Nicolas is a lot of things.

He just finished off a football season with the Celtics. He was elected senior class representative by his peers. He’s a Keizer Fire Explorer and a Keizer Police Cadet. He leads a company within North Salem High School’s ROTC program. He’s also a snappy dresser.

His newest role is as the Keizer City Council’s youth councilor, through the Salem Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Youth program.

Not bad for anyone. But it’s especially impressive considering he hardly knew a word of English when he moved here from Veracruz, Mexico at age 11.

He credited a great teacher along with the History Channel – “I really wanted to learn English because I wanted to listen to those stories” – and even cartoons for younger children like Dora the Explorer.

His parents moved here for “a better life,” Nicolas said, and he’s certainly found his niche at McNary.

His initial inclinations were toward law enforcement, but something changed recently when he was asked to bring $5 to a Leadership Youth event.

The $5 wasn’t an activity fee. Instead the youth were asked to go to Dollar Tree and purchase five items for the elderly, then pay some a visit.

“It was pretty amazing, how you made those people really happy with five dollars,” Nicolas said. “It made it a really special holiday for them. When I went home and was thinking about it, I thought ‘I can’t believe I made someone really happy for $5.’ What other things could I do if I had the motivation to get more into it and try to make a difference?”

Another factor was his participation in Boys State, a program sponsored by the American Legion. Students selected for the program perform mock debates and simulate city council meetings along with legislative sessions. Kathy Moore, who directs the program, said Hugo wanted to be on two different boards, but she made him choose one.

“I have to make sure, with the other things he’s involved in, that he doesn’t over commit himself,” Moore said. “Had I allowed, I’m sure he would have done it quite successfully.”

This led him to seek the youth councilor spot with Keizer.

“I wanted to get more of a taste of government,” he said. “When I went to Boys State you simulate what it’s like, but on the (council) you get real-life situations like fluoride and the (cell phone) tax. … You see how people have different ideas.”

The fluoride debate was the most interesting, but he feels most strongly about the wireless fee, which was presented as a way to help fund police and fire by covering some of the costs associated with 911 services.

Nicolas hopes to one day seek public office himself, but may join the military first. He’s applied to colleges but hasn’t picked one yet, and is considering law and business school.

Democrat or Republican? He isn’t sure.

“I’m going to see who can bring more changes to our society or our state, and then I’m going to decide from there,” he said.

If you’re looking for him at council meetings, simply seek out the young man in a three-piece suit. It stands out from the slightly more casual dress of most of the city councilors, and certainly that of his fellow high schoolers.
But he’s fine with that.

“I just think it’s really important how you present yourself to other people,” Nicolas said. “What you do will make who you are. That’s why I always wear a tie.”

Moore is impressed.

“Definitely very well-rounded, level-headed,” Moore said of Nicolas. “He works extremely hard, very responsible. And if you ask him to do something, he’s fully committed to get it done.”