It’s more than a certificate: it’s a rare opportunity for one young woman from Warrenville.

This fall, Nathalie Marquez received a certificate of completion, marking the end of a six-week journey through the Basic Operations Firefighter Recruit Academy. After a grueling 200-plus hours of physical fitness, equipment safety training, live fire experiences and classroom time, Nathalie is one of ten to graduate this month from the academy, the first offered to recruits from both the Naperville Fire Department and the Warrenville Fire Protection District (WFPD).

“We are incredibly proud of the hard work Nathalie Marquez and her fellow Warrenville recruits—Nicholas Charlten, Philip Fazio, Robby Leonard and Patrick Wellick—put into the rigorous fire academy training,” said WFPD Fire Chief Dennis Rogers. “This is their first step towards becoming a fully certified firefighter, and the future of our department.”

While many of her fellow graduates had long dreamed of someday becoming a firefighter, this was a new and exciting goal for Nathalie—one made possible by a partnership between the WFPD and Warrenville Youth & Services (WYFS).

“Earlier this year, Chief Rogers came to us with an exciting opportunity,” says Angela Mains, WYFS director. “His team was working to recruit potential firefighters for the upcoming academy and wanted to offer a spot to one of the former students from our Quest after-school program. When he asked if we had anyone we thought would be a great fit, we immediately thought of Nathalie.”

Sponsoring a Quest student through the fire academy is the natural next step to a burgeoning relationship between WYFS and WFPD. Just over two years ago, the two organizations began collaborating together through the Hot Shots program.

“The goals of Hot Shots are to engage students in civic life, engender a trust between students and our civic leaders and to develop leadership skills in our students,” says Angela.

“To accomplish those shared goals, we bring the Quest students to our Warrenville fire house one Friday each month,” continues Chief Rogers. “The students participate in service projects, have received basic fire and safety training, and have fun with our staff. It’s a win-win.”

Nathalie’s younger brother is currently part of Quest and the Hot Shot program, and that connection encouraged Nathalie to answer the call when Quest staff reached out to her about the fire academy opportunity.

“I am really interested in the sciences and had wanted to go to College of DuPage or another college but wasn’t sure how I could make that work when [Leslee Cremer], my former Quest teacher, messaged me about the academy,” says Nathalie. “She explained that it was a really good opportunity, and I just went for it.”

While Nathalie says the academy wasn’t easy—“there were good days, there were really rough days, there were bad days, there were hot days”—it’s inspired her to take the next steps to becoming a paramedic and fully certified firefighter. “I definitely want to do this now.”

This opportunity wouldn’t have been possible without a special scholarship for Nathalie through WFPD and WYFS to underwrite the costs for the academy. With her successful graduation, the two organizations are now considering how they can partner together to support more future recruits like Nathalie.

From L-R: Nathalie, Chief Rogers and Angela Mains