Although my parents never graduated from high school, the importance of hard work and getting an education was a fundamental lesson they ingrained in me. Being a good student became part of my identity. I graduated with a 4.2 GPA, held leadership roles in several school clubs and at my church while maintaining multiple jobs throughout high school. I worked harder than many peers as my parents taught me that going to college was my only ticket to living the “American Dream”. As a first-generation immigrant, I saw how hard my parents worked to bring food to the table each day and make sure my siblings and I had a shot at a better life. That is why I vowed to work hard, get scholarships, and get accepted to college.

I wanted to make my parents proud, which is why I was extremely heartbroken when my Dad said he would not sign the paperwork for me to enroll at UC San Diego. I couldn’t understand where things went wrong…I worked so hard and thought they would be proud.

Against my father’s will, after many months of crying and almost giving up, I took a trip to San Diego, signed a lease to a small apartment with the little money I had saved and a family friend’s co-signature. Thankfully my mother (after much convincing) gave me her blessing. My father did not talk to me for months. Today I understand that my Father’s reservations for me leaving home were just his way of trying to protect me as his first born and only daughter.

I was always very close to my family and relied on them for family support so my first year of college was beyond difficult. I skipped meals frequently or went to bed hungry because I did not have enough money. The campus felt cold and I felt like I did not belong. No one on campus looked like me. I felt alone. I could not reach out to my family. I could not let them know I was struggling. I did not want to disappoint them. I thought of dropping out of school constantly. College wasn’t for me. I did not belong there. I felt like a failure. I struggled academically and mentally. At a point, I thought my life wasn’t worth living anymore.

I needed a mentor, a cheerleader, someone to believe in me.

Eventually, I made it through my first year, my parents overcame their fear, and then I found my “why.” I vowed to work hard to make education accessible for all- regardless of one’s background. In efforts to improve the odds of students like me, I received my bachelor’s in Psychology and Master’s in Educational Counseling.

I became a counseling intern and I met Jose, who forever changed my world. I was excited to share with him everything I knew about accessing college education. I shared my struggles with him, along with resources and tips. Each meeting he took the information quietly and then excused himself and then finally said to me, “Miss, they haven’t told you I am a foster youth? I don’t even know where I am going to live when I turn 18, college is my least concern.” It broke my heart. Jose, like me at his age, had no idea of the resources available to him. He had no idea that he wasn’t alone, that there are mentors and resources like Promises2Kids whose only mission is to give foster youth a brighter future.

Jose reinforced my “why” and to this day I am proud to say that I have continued my work to help underprivileged youth and community. Working daily with foster youth and hearing their stories of incredible resiliency reminds me every day that I am in the right place. Promises2Kids gives hope and provides so much support to our youth. Promises2Kids is the mentor, the advocate, and the cheerleader I wish I had growing up. I am so proud to work at an organization that is committed to supporting foster youth and helps them live happy and healthy lives. For this reason, I am proud to be a Promise Maker and hope you will join too!

Jose has since graduated college earning a degree in liberal studies and is continuously inspiring youth.

Liz Ramírez