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.
Rarely does someone come into contact with Angelique who is not inspired by her life story. Angelique is the definition of resilience. She came to California as a refugee from Rwanda in 1999, leaving behind a past of incredible sorrow–many of her family members were slain in the violent campaign of the Rwanda government on its own citizens. Angelique and her husband were lucky to be alive. Despite such personal trauma, they were both hopeful they could start a new life in Sacramento.
The USA Properties Fund community of Silverado Creek has been Angelique’s home now for seven years. Here, she has continued to work on healing from her past-here at Silverado Creek she has found a supportive community to raise her two sons, ages 11 and 8, and to do what most busy moms do in Sacramento-run between her kids’ soccer games, work, and school. Angelique is very grateful to be this busy and knows without the JB Brown Academic Scholarship Program, life could have been much different.
The JB Brown scholarships Angelique received have propelled her from earning her AA at Sacramento City College to ultimately transferring to Sacramento State University and earning a four year degree. At Sacramento State, Angelique majored in Occupational Health and Safety with an emphasis in Aging (Gerontology). This course of study fit Angelique’s caring and empathic character well since she is naturally a giver and is fulfilled by helping others. Angelique opted to do an internship with LifeSTEPS for her gerontology class and this experience has proven to be valuable for her career. Angelique graduated from Sacramento State in 2016 and immediately applied with LifeSTEPS for a Director of Social Services position serving older adults in affordable housing.
Angelique has been an amazing addition to the LifeSTEPS team and in just a few months on the job she has already had a lasting positive impact for the senior residents she serves. Recently one of Angelique’s properties was featured on Good Day Sacramento for an innovative rock painting class facilitated by one of her residents. As the camera operator panned the room capturing the residents proudly showing off their painted rocks, Angelique was there in the background–feeling thankful that she was there at all and knowing she had come full circle.
New Adventures For Montecito Couple
In many ways Felix’s and Ofelia’s maturity in years was hidden by the lines in their faces and their gray hair–all just a mask to cover what they really were: two wide-eyed teenagers trying to figure out their adult world for the first time! Everything was new to them and exciting, but on the other hand, very frightening as well. It wasn’t long before Ofelia missed her sons and her grandchildren terribly. She missed everything that was familiar about her home in Armenia. Plus navigating Los Angeles was a nightmare–especially difficult when you have no financial resources and don’t speak the language. Everyday Ofelia cried a little and wondered why they had come to this strange new country.
Felix was having a hard time adjusting too. The loneliness was really hard for him since he is naturally very social and outgoing. When Ani, LifeSTEPS’ Director of Social Services at Montecito Terrance, first met the couple she could see right away how lost Felix and Ofelia were. The couple’s love for each other was very clear, but they also needed friends and a support system to help them adjust to their new life in the US. Ani began to personally invite the couple to LifeSTEPS activities such as bingo, Zumba class, and potluck socials. She introduced them to other residents who had also emigrated from Armenia, some of whom were attending college classes and taking ESL classes to learn English. Ofelia and Felix slowly began to make friends and soon Ofelia came to Ani asking for help to enroll in college classes too. Felix followed soon after and it wasn’t long before the two of them were studying their English together.