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Getting on That Plane: Hartley Villagra

Sometimes, fear is just a little voice in our heads holding us back from achieving and experiencing something great. For Hartley Villagra (they/them) (Public Allies Central Florida ‘22), letting go of these fears helped to propel them forward into finding their life’s purpose, serving others in whichever ways possible.

Becoming a Public Ally was like holding a skeleton key, unlocking endless doors of opportunity, growth, and friendship. Hartley’s year of service has given them the advantage of being more opinionated, more outspoken, and more of their own person.

Hartley about to enter their first plane ever.

“It’s definitely been interesting. I’m usually a very introverted person, but the experiences that Public Allies brings is not something that my old personality could have handled,” Hartley says. “I had to come out of my shell quite a bit to meet new people, make connections, and make the first move when it comes to taking advantage of opportunities that are presented to you.”

Aside from graduating from Public Allies Central Florida, Hartley is also finishing up their bachelor’s degree at the University of Central Florida with plans to attend law school next. 


“Being a Public Ally, I’m able to find more of my purpose in terms of what I want to do. I always knew that I wanted to do law, but now I know that I want to do law specifically to help change the legislation around foster youth and their rights,” they say. “I want to give back to that community and bring more awareness to what foster youth are actually going through.”

Hartley in front of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s office.

Hartley’s passion for foster youth law and policy was only solidified further with Public Allies Central Florida’s cohort trip to Washington D.C. in April 2022. As someone who had never been on a plane and had never traveled further North than Georgia, this experience has had lifelong impacts on them.

“It made it real for me,” they say. “Meeting the representatives and people that work in the D.C. area… [it made me realize that] they’re just people that worked in the same way I did. It made it [feel like] something that is plausible for me. I can see myself in one of those seats and making the change and influence that I want to have. My biggest takeaway from [this experience] is the fact that everybody deserves an opportunity to be successful.”