Puerto, who attended The Center for Rural Development’s Rogers Scholars program nearly 15 years ago, said the experience instilled in her a commitment to service.
“Congressman Hal Rogers and the Rogers Scholars program inspired and challenged me to be accountable for making my community a better place to live,” said Puerto, who now works as an optometric physician in private practice in Louisiana. “Since that time, civic leadership has been my guiding passion.”
Rogers Scholars —The Center for Rural Development’s flagship youth program—is named after U.S. Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-05), who believes “no young people should have to leave home to find his or her future.”
Growing up, Puerto lived in several states and did not have a sense of community identity. That all changed when the Puerto family moved to Somerset, KY, when she was 10 years old.
“I never did identify with one community, until Rogers Scholars nurtured my leadership and created in me a drive to serve my rural community,” she said. “One of the greatest gifts Rogers Scholars provided me was an identity to seize my potential as the region’s next generation of business and entrepreneurial leaders.”
The program motivated Puerto to pursue educational and leadership opportunities that would ultimately shape her future and continues to influence her decisions today.
“Before Rogers Scholars, I hadn’t been challenged to think critically about the problems facing my community nor how my skills could contribute to improving my community,” she said. “When it came to choosing a career path, I wanted to likewise challenge myself in a career field not initially considered for myself and use that unique skill to fulfill a need in my community.”
Puerto graduated magna cum laude from Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky., earning bachelor of arts degrees in political science and communication. She later pursued a doctorate from Southern College Optometry in Memphis, Tenn. Pureto holds dual board certifications in the American Academy of Optometry and the American Board of Optometry, a distinction achieved by less than 12 percent of optometrists.
“I encourage all young people to take advantage of college and explore new interests, but to always keep at the heart of everything you do: gratitude and giving back to your community,” Puerto said. “We have such talented and brilliant young minds in Kentucky. I firmly believe it is our greatest capital. Students in Southern and Eastern Kentucky need an opportunity and a college scholarship for many is that opportunity to achieve a better life for themselves and their families.”
The Rogers Scholars program provides valuable leadership skills and exclusive college scholarship opportunities for high school students in Southern and Eastern Kentucky to help develop the skills they need to seize their potential as the region’s next generation of business and entrepreneurial leaders.
Puerto, formerly of Pulaski County, works as an optometric physician at Louisiana Family Eyecare in Covington, LA. She continues to seek leadership and voluntary service opportunities in her home community and provides free vision and eye health screenings through a statewide healthcare program.
“Rogers Scholars gave me the confidence to be a servant leader,” Puerto said. “Ultimately, Rogers Scholars was the foundation I needed to recognize my aspirations, pursue other leadership development program, to be proud of who I am, and to be proud of Southern and Eastern Kentucky.”
Rogers Scholars, an intensive one-week summer leadership program, is open to high school sophomores in 45 Kentucky counties within The Center for Rural Development’s primary service area.
The program is provided at no cost to students and is supported solely through fundraising and donations.