Omar “Cito” Santos-Vega, first-year instructor at VOBS Twin Cities Center, was awarded the Lt. Col. Mark Weber Service Above Self Award for leadership and outstanding service in August. Nominated by his peers, Cito is known as a team player who always puts students first, bringing positivity, humor and a “can do” attitude to every task.
Cito, 26, is a first generation mainlander whose parents moved from Puerto Rico before he was born. He credits his parents with instilling in him a drive to challenge himself to achieve his goals and overcome obstacles. “It is interesting how you can be living your life as if nothing will ever change until it does,” Cito said. During college, his brother suddenly passed away from leukemia. “That absolutely flipped my world upside down,” Cito shared. “I really lost a lot of who I was.”
He eventually graduated from the University of Texas at El Paso in 2020, but was still unsure of his career path. After searching non-traditional youth counseling jobs, he decided to join a 50-day Wilderness Educators Course with VOBS in Big Bend, Texas. Afterwards, he made a goal to work with VOBS programs for young adults facing serious life challenges. “Seeing that there was a way to help youth find themselves using the outdoors really appealed to me, especially after being inside so much due to the pandemic,” he said.
After Cito became an instructor at VOBS’ Twin Cities Center in 2021, his peers quickly recognized his many talents. “Cito is always making the team laugh,” said one peer nominator. “He makes sure the interests of the students are at the forefront.” Another peer noted the way Cito puts students first in a compassionate and genuine way, and praised his “consistent ‘can do’ attitude that radiates positivity and fun throughout the crew.” Another nomination pointed out that “Cito embodies service above self in all he does.”
Upon receiving the peer award, Cito said he was surprised and flooded with emotions. “I almost couldn’t believe the person they were talking about was me,” he said. “I feel really accomplished, happy and grateful to be part of such a supportive and passionate team.” Congratulations, Cito!
Lt. Col. Mark Weber Service Above Self Award, named for the late Army Lt. Col. Mark Weber, recognizes staff members who lead with the highest standards of ethics, courage, perseverance, humility and service to community. Homeplace instructor Benji Blumenstock also received the Weber Award this year.
Previous Award Winners are:
2013 – Bud Ahrens & Phil Courey
2014 – Jack Willis & Will Zest
2015 – Abby Dare & Emma Schneider
2016 – Rachel Hedlund & Jesse Brown
2017 – Andrea Doerr & Emma Gibson
2018 – Anneke Johnson & Kevin Mack
2019 – Yoshie Fujimoto-Kateada
2020 – All 2020 Field Staff
2021 – Benji Blumnstock and Omar “Cito” Santos-Vega