Meet 12-year-old Angela. An active participant in LifeSTEPS’ After School Program, she is known as a leader who takes the initiative to help other students after completing her homework. With a big heart, Angela also enjoys lending a hand at other LifeSTEPS events by serving food and cleaning up. But before joining the After School Program, Angela was on a difficult road. A year ago, on a day like any other, she was told that her father had died from a sudden stroke. Paralyzed from shock and grief, the loss of Angela’s father affected every aspect of her life. Her world was turned upside down.
As Alvaro proudly walked across the stage at San Jose State University, tears rolled down his eyes. As happy as he was, he could not help but think of the incredible journey that led him to that very moment. Looking at his family’s faces out in the audience cheering for him, he felt both happiness and sadness. Happiness because he was the first in his family to graduate from college and sadness because there was one significant person missing from the crowd.
As a young child born in Mexico, Alvaro’s family struggled financially due to the lack of resources and employment opportunities in the country. Despite the hardships, his parents worked endlessly holding on to the sheer dream of bringing their family to America one day. At the age of 15, Alvaro received news that would change the course of his life forever. Coming home from school on what felt like an ordinary day, his parents sat Alvaro and his siblings down to share the news that they just received after Alvaro’s father visited a doctor. What they thought were just minor headaches turned out to be a brain tumor, giving Alvaro’s father a mere few more months to live.
Alvaro’s daily routine of going to school, watching cartoons, and focusing on his studies became a routine of looking out for his bedridden father as he slowly slipped away. With his mother working long hours trying to provide for her ailing husband and for their children, Alvaro spent as much time as he could with his dad, trying to cherish every moment. As the months passed by, Alvaro’s father’s health rapidly deteriorated.
One night, before Alvaro went to bed, Alvaro’s father asked Alvaro to sit beside him. Barely able to speak, Alvaro’s father looked deeply into Alvaro’s eyes and told him, “no matter what, go to a University. I never had the opportunity and I want you to have it.” With tears in his eyes, Alvaro nodded his head as he watched his father fall asleep. Alvaro took those words to heart and made a promise to himself to never forget those words. A few days later, Alvaro’s father passed away.
As the years went by, the family continued to struggle financially feeling the permanent loss of the head of their household. As Alvaro continued helping his family, he knew he was nowhere near the goals he set for himself. All of that changed the moment Alvaro was given the opportunity to come to America to start a new life. He knew this was the opportunity he had been waiting for and by leaving Mexico, he would be able to pursue his father’s dying wish.
At the age of 19, Alvaro moved to the Bay Area with the remainder of his family, later finding a home through affordable housing. Speaking very little English, Alvaro was told that he would have to complete his high school education over again in order to attend college in the United States. Determined, Alvaro enrolled in school as an adult and initially struggled due to the language barrier. What he thought would be manageable became a large obstacle he was determined to overcome. Not only was he attending classes from 8am-3pm, but was also helping his family financially by working as a dishwasher at a local restaurant from the hours of 5pm-1am. Despite the little sleep he had and the exhaustion he felt on a daily basis, Alvaro refused to give up.
After years of hard work, Alvaro received his high school diploma. Excited and proud, Alvaro enrolled at Evergreen Valley College where he was determined to complete his general education classes and eventually transfer to a four-year university. Juggling both school and work, Alvaro still found the time to volunteer with LifeSTEPS by teaching ESL classes and hosting lessons focused on Mexican folk dances.
With a heavy workload and never enough time outside of work and school, Alvaro finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel. In the Spring of 2014, Alvaro was admitted to San Jose State University, a school he felt met all of his needs. Seeing his acceptance letter meant everything to him. After calculating tuition fees and other costly expenses, Alvaro was disheartened to learn that the budget for that semester far exceeded what he had saved while working.
Without any resources or support from his family, Alvaro deferred his acceptance hoping that he would figure out his financial issues by the time the next semester rolled around. “I was completely convinced that going to university was not going to be possible. I remember sitting out of my balcony watching the students head to school with their backpacks on. It made me very sad not to have the financial resources to continue higher education. At that moment I remembered the promise I made to my father and I told myself that money would not stop me,” Alvaro said.
With the semester of school he had off, Alvaro worked around the clock hoping to save up as much as he could, but even that wasn’t enough. Speaking to his Property Manager, Jasmine, during a night he was teaching ESL classes, Alvaro expressed the frustrations he was feeling. Surprised that she was now learning of this, Jasmine immediately told him about the JB Brown Scholarship Fund which helped students in the same situation.
After finally submitting it to LifeSTEPS, Alvaro checked his email multiple times a day hoping to receive good news. A few weeks before the fall semester was to start, he finally received the email he was waiting for. He was being awar
ded a scholarship to San Jose State University that would cover a large portion of his tuition fees. Alvaro took that opportunity and worked hard during his time at SJSU. By the time of Spring 2018, Alvaro had received five JB Brown Fund Scholarships that helped him on the path to following his dreams.
On the day of his graduation, Alvaro shook hands with the school Chancellor, looked out into the crowd and spotted his family. That’s when he felt a sudden rush of air. At that moment, Alvaro knew that his father was there, proudly watching him fulfill the dream he had for him.
Today, Alvaro works in an elementary school interning as a teacher for their bilingual program. Understanding the struggle of learning a new language while completing school, Alvaro found his passion. After completing his internship, Alvaro plans to begin his teaching credential program with plans of earning his Master’s Degree in Special Education.
“Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Not only has the LifeSTEPS and the JB Brown Fund given me the opportunity toward a better future, but it has also inspired me to give back to the community that helped me get here,” Alvaro says.
Carla*, mother of two, hasn’t always had the easiest life. At an early age, Carla was figuring things out on her own. Although she had a loving grandmother that raised her and her siblings, she lacked guidance when it came to planning for her future. With her parents out of the picture, Carla also took it upon herself to look out for her siblings trying hard to lessen the burden for grandmother. Because of this, Carla’s family has always been the most important thing in her life.
After graduating high school, she married her husband and had two children of her own. Although she and her family faced financial hardships and struggles, Carla also made the decision to take full custody of her nephew after experiencing challenges of his own. By following her grandmother’s lead, she knew how important it was for her nephew to grow up in a loving and supportive home.
With Carla unable to find work, the family relied on one income to help them get by. Living paycheck to paycheck and without a savings account, the family took out credit cards in order to pay for unforeseen expenses and emergencies. Sinking further and further into debt and having three children to support, Carla was desperate to find any kind of relief.
After moving into an affordable housing unit, Carla was introduced to LifeSTEPS and the programs we offer to struggling individuals who were in the same situation as her. She also learned about the Family Self-Sufficiency Program (FSS), which she immediately applied for. Nervous and not knowing what to expect, Carla was introduced to her Case Manager who went over the different classes and resources available to her.
For the first time in her life, Carla felt empowered. With financial education courses being offered, as well as one-on-one counseling, Carla was able to learn new ways to save money and budget. Through resume building and job training, Carla was also able to find full-time employment, helping her reduce her debt and finally start a savings account. With the services and resources provided by the FSS Program, Carla has finally been able to do something she never thought would be possible –earn her degree.
With life finally on the right track, Carla and her family are now on the path to reaching stability and self-sufficiency. “Always stay positive and don’t be scared to ask for help. Thank you, LifeSTEPS,” Carla says.
*name has been changed
When Ann* moved into her new apartment last June, she did not expect to experience the struggle that she did. After being on the waiting list for a year, Ann and her husband David* were ecstatic when an opening for a one-bedroom unit became available. To Ann and David, moving into an affordable housing unit meant self-sufficiency and stability, which is what they both have always strived for.
One morning, as she was exiting the BART station on her way home from running her daily errands, she had noticed that the usual bus she takes back to her apartment was not stopping. Afraid that the driver did not see her, she began to run when all of a sudden, she missed a step on her way down the stairs. Crashing onto the ground, Ann was left with an injury she never saw coming.
After being rushed to the hospital, Ann was told that she had broken her front teeth and had incurred a gum infection. Being told that she had to call the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority to file a claim, Ann became overwhelmed with not only her physical injury, but the confusing application of getting the process started.
Ann and her husband called their Director of Social Services, Qianying, in the hopes that she could help them fill out the paperwork involved. Once Qianying sat down with the couple, she carefully went through each form and helped with the calls that needed to be made. Not only did this put Ann at ease, but it also gave her the physical and mental support she needed to help her get through her ordeal.
Over time, as Ann began to heal, she developed a fear and anxiety of leaving the apartment. With the traumatic injury affecting her daily life, Qianying knew that she needed to help Ann get used to her surroundings and feel comfortable being outside. Qianying suggested that the couple both attend small community gatherings and get familiar with the new property they now called home.
After a few weeks of small outings, Ann slowly began to feel comfortable being outside of her apartment. She began to take daily walks around the property where she was able to meet her new neighbors and explore the community. With such a warm welcome from the other residents, Ann slowly regained her confidence.
Despite a traumatic injury, Ann persevered. Because of the help of Qianying and the LifeSTEPS community, Ann was able to get her life back. She is now finally able to enjoy her new home and move forward with her life. “I am very thankful that LifeSTEPS is here to help me. With the assistance they provided, I am finally feeling better,” Ann says.
*names have been changed