August is usually the month when parents make their way down the back-to-school list, including…
For Jessie, nothing could hold her back from achieving her dreams of going to college.
Jessie’s sights were set on getting into college from an early age, but the cards were stacked against her. Instead of focusing on the obstacles in her path, Jessie focused on the opportunities before her and turned her dreams into reality.
Jessie’s family often lived paycheck-to-paycheck, so paying for tutoring or college mentoring programs was not an option. Her parents had no formal education. Her school district held the second highest drop-out rate in the county. Getting through high school and on to a university was no easy feat.
With a seemingly huge mountain to climb, most students would have given up. But not Jessie.
As a student at Los Amigos High School, Jessie early on enrolled in the school’s AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) college-readiness program. It was here that she was introduced to Orange County United Way’s Destination Graduation and Youth Career Connections programs.
The United Way programs are designed specifically for at-risk youth like Jessie. They engage, empower and inspire young students to finish high school on time – and be better prepared for college and future careers.
Through her participation in these programs, Jessie said she was motivated by the many success stories of other students who came from similar, disadvantaged backgrounds. She said, “I was inspired by these stories to look beyond my circumstances and to thrive.”
“Through this experience, I had a moment of self-realization that life holds so many possibilities and I am to be a testament of all the great things that can happen,” Jessie continued. “I became driven to make the impossible possible. Not only for myself but for all those around me.”
Destination Graduation provided Jessie with mentoring, tutoring, career planning, college exposure and more. She didn’t stop there.
Jessie also participated in United Way’s Youth Career Connections program, a work-based learning initiative that infuses classroom learning with real-world experiences.
Through this program, Jessie secured a summer internship at CIELO, a grassroots organization that empowers entrepreneurs to pursue economic self-sufficiency.
“Having interned at CIELO, I gained the confirmation and confidence to pursue a political science major and minor in education,” Jessie said. “Having seen all the great things CIELO does for their clients, even those with very little educational backgrounds, I was so moved to pursue a career in educational policy. I realized that for many, getting a post-secondary education was never a choice, but they are still faced with the consequences in the absence of no education.
Coming from a low-income background and having parents who had no formal education, I understand the struggle to live paycheck-by-paycheck. Not only that but to fear whether college is a possibility. So for me, this internship sparked my inner passion to change the educational system to help families like mine by creating pathways to encourage minorities and low-income students to reach a higher education.”
“It was really fascinating to learn from Jessie. She provided insight into what the next wave of future leaders will be,” said John Hobson, CEO of CIELO. “In her interview that first day, she far exceeded any expectations I had. I was really impressed with her maturity, the way she conducted herself in the interview, and I realized this is a very impressive young adult. We were pleasantly surprised to see her maturity and the impact that she had and the quality of work she was producing.”
The impact of this internship on Jessie was profound, too.
Jessie said, “My biggest take away from the Youth Career Connections internship program is that nothing is too small to be a dream. From creating your own maintenance business to a taqueria business. John was a testament to it all, as he guided and ran CIELO, he helped to make the dreams of his clients become true.”
Soon, Jessie’s own dream would be coming true.
She never backed down from the challenges before her, she jumped every hurdle and defied the odds.
Jessie was accepted to University of California, Berkeley for fall 2018.
“I was overwhelmed in the feeling of thankfulness. I thanked God for never allowing me to give up on myself. I thanked my teachers and mentors for being the greatest resources. And most importantly, my family for always being the greatest support system,” Jessie said.
Just last month, Jessie joined her Class of 2018 peers for graduation. During the ceremony, she was surprised with the Principal’s Perseverance Award. She proudly accepted her diploma and award, and looked forward to starting her next chapter at UC Berkeley.
Jessie said, “Graduation to me, is only the beginning of all the great things I aspire to accomplish.”
When asked what advice she’d give to other young students, she said, “My advice to other students who are in a similar situation as I am, is to never lose sight of their goal. To always remind themselves that they are deserving of a happy, successful and worth-living life. Surround yourself with people who have similar goals and can truly advise you with uplifting and moving words that help you grow and prosper, rather than harming you and making you fall behind.”
Jessie is grateful for the opportunities from Orange County United Way to learn and excel down the path to college and career success.
“Orange County United Way’s programs helped me graduate and get ready for college in the fall by helping me develop the skills and confidence to voice and advocate for myself as a rising colored college student,” she said.
Jessie is a true model of perseverance and determination. She is a shining testament that no matter the circumstances or obstacles, your dreams are achievable.
Orange County United Way is Solving Problems in the Community
United Way fights for the education, health, housing and financial stability of every person in Orange County. If you are looking for ways to help the community, learn how to get involved or sign up for our monthly newsletter. Join the Fight!
Orange County United Way’s Youth Career Connections, in collaboration with educational and corporate partners, make it possible to provide a full spectrum of work-based learning experiences to the future workforce. Is your company ready to make a difference in the lives of local high school students?