Fort Worth church supports and connects local students in robotics competition


In 2004, Oscar Vazquez was an undocumented immigrant at Carl Hayden High School in Phoenix, Arizona. A young boy looking for a way to move ahead in life he desired to serve his country in the military, but because of his undocumented status he was barred from any military service.

Then a chance, or not so chance, discovery of a Marine Underwater Robotics Competition spun Oscar’s life into an entirely new direction. He and his team went on to win the national competition held in Santa Barbara, California, beating teams including one from MIT.

In 2015, film director Sean McNamara adapted Oscar and his remarkable team’s story to the big screen. Aptly titled Spare Parts, the members of the Robotics Academics Club are portrayed as scrappy kids fighting for a win.

Twelve years later, Oscar now works for BNSF Railway Company in the Metroplex as an IT Senior Business Analyst. He is a member of the BNSF Hispanic Leadership Council, or HLC, where he met Elisa Cardenas Salazar. A member of Roca Viva Church in Fort Worth, Elisa connected Oscar to Pastor Lorenzo Perez of Roca Viva Church, who is very active in the Diamond Hill community.

A vital vein to this triangle, Elisa explains how Diamond Hill High School, Roca Viva Church and Oscar team up.

“The church is working with the community to help raise funds to enable these students to compete in national and international competitions,” Elisa said. “The 2016-2017 school year sees the students participating in two competitions: FIRST Tech Challenge, or FTC, for medium-sized robots, and FIRST Robotics Competition, or FRC, for large scale robots that compete against teams from other nations.”

Elisa connected Oscar to her home church for financial support and to Diamond Hill High School where the robotics team was looking for a leader.  

As many as 15 students are active in this group at one time, being taught and led by Oscar Vazquez and Garrett Smitley and supported by the church. Oscar sees himself in these students and was eager to get involved. He wants to give these students the same chances and opportunities he had to realize their potential.

As for Roca Viva, it’s a small but passionate church that wants to see God’s kingdom glorified. Pastor Lo recalls meeting Oscar for the first time.

“I remember the first time I met Oscar at BNSF,” he said. “I asked him a few questions about his family and Spare Parts, but my final question was, ‘Do you believe in God?’ He was slow to respond, probably because he didn’t know where I was coming from, but he said, ‘yes.’ I went on to explain how God works, from his life and to this point, how God brings us together putting everything that we need in our path that we may accomplish God’s greater purpose. I also explained that we were a small church and didn’t have the money the robotics team needed, but we knew people that did.”

This partnership was born out of what some would call coincidence, but God’s sovereign hand brought Oscar and Elisa together and threaded the relationship of BNSF Railway, Diamond Hill High School and Roca Viva Church.

Oscar has big plans for the students.

“I hope that we can continue to work together because the kids in the program will not only learn about robotics, they will also learn about community involvement,” Oscar said. “Our plan is to continue to provide support as the program develops and grows. We hope that one day after they complete their education they can come back and help the kids that will look up to them.”

As Roca Viva Church continues their involvement, they have one goal.

“We continue to pray and believe that the total amount for the year will be raised and that God will be glorified in the process,” Pastor Lo said.

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