“Since I was a teenager, I always had a heart to serve,” says Nyack/ATS alumnus Luis. And what better way to exemplify his selflessness than to enlist in the military?
That was his plan after high school, but God had another opportunity in mind. The offer to attend college was one Luis could not refuse. All three degrees he earned—the associate’s degree (2004) and bachelor’s degree (2006) from Nyack College and the master’s degree (2019) from Alliance Theological Seminary—were completed with a special distinction held by more than 40% of Nyack undergraduate students. Luis was the first in his immediate family to attend college.
His track record reflected the grit needed to pursue a dream and see it unfold.
Defying the odds of being just another inner-city statistic was not Luis’s real triumph. It was his determination to use his education and leadership to pay it forward to others. While attending Nyack College, he and 12 other young people co-founded a youth center called “Generation X-Cel” in the Jacob Riis Housing Development in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Luis recalls, “It was really exciting to me because I was investing in the youth of the same community where I was born and raised.”
While Luis was busy investing in young people, his commitment to serving others caught the attention of someone who wanted to invest in him. Dr. TY Lee, a member of the Nyack/ATS Board of Trustees since 2002, marveled at Luis’s story from the time he read the My City, My God profile on Luis nearly a decade ago. The two men eventually met. “Luis was deeply impacted by his Nyack College experience. His life has been a stellar example of embracing the Nyack core values of being personally transformed and socially relevant,” shares Dr. Lee.
Luis’s achievements did not come without challenge. It was not an easy endeavor to complete a master’s degree while working multiple jobs. In fact, because providing for his family was his main priority, it took him seven years to complete the Masters in Professional Studies (MPS) degree. There were times when he considered abandoning the pursuit of the seminary degree, but Dr. Lee never failed to walk alongside Luis at those times.
“Dr. Lee has always encouraged me throughout the years with scriptures,” says Luis. “The one that stands out is Galatians 6:9: And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”
Not only did Luis earn the MPS, but he held several other leadership positions. He was site director for the Salvation Army’s Greater Academic Incentives to Nurture Success (GAINS) program in Spring Valley, NY. In addition to overseeing the after-school activities, he taught martial arts classes for nearly a dozen years. (Owning a martial arts school is still a desire of his heart.) Following his time with the GAINS program, Luis became the Director of Pastoral Care for the Children’s Village on its 100-acre campus in Dobbs Ferry, NY serving youth in foster care and juvenile detention.
Dr. Lee proudly joins the Velez family in celebrating Luis’s achievements. God opened the door for the Velez family to build a home in North Carolina. There Luis completed the 18-week North Carolina Police Academy’s Basic Law Enforcement Training (BLET) in December 2020 and is now a part of the Mint Hill Police Department located in Mecklenburg County.
Recently, he was selected to be a Community Officer in an area that he says makes up about 40% of the crime in the town. “My job is to provide routine patrol to deter crime, answer calls for service, and make friendly casual contact with residents. The intent is to build better communication and create a partnership with the public which includes planning community events.”
In a season when friction between the police and community residents is so heightened, the role Luis plays is a critical one. He credits Nyack’s diverse campus population as preparation for interacting with people from all walks of life. “The area where I patrol reminds me a lot of where I grew up in New York City’s Lower East Side. I have experienced residents who are appreciative of our police efforts, but then there is a smaller percentage who are anti-police.” He adds, “Growing up I was not fond of the police, but that all changed when at 17 years old I met Rick Perez a NYPD detective who to this day is a mentor to me in this profession. Uncle Rick, as I affectionately call him, displayed a genuine concern for me and always encouraged me to make right choices.”
“My appointment as a Community Officer is part of our department’s new community policing initiative to assess data monthly to determine its effectiveness. But I believe our most important gauge will be how the community outwardly responds us as officers, possibly offering a genuine inclusiveness which could impact change in how we perceive one another.”
His words of wisdom for Nyack students, especially those considering the criminal justice major?
“My advice to anyone considering a career as a police officer is to remember to treat people the way you would want your loved ones to be treated. Treat people with respect, understanding that the language of “respect” transcends cultural differences, language barriers, and even stereotypes.”
Our hats are off to Officer Velez!