Throughout my life I have had to figure how to be a functioning person by myself. My mother was a single mom who worked multiple jobs. She was never home. I would only see her for about an hour each morning. My father was not in the picture, as he was incarcerated in Mexico. Because of this, I ended up living in multiple homes with family. I moved to about eight different homes before I was a teenager. The relationship that I had with my father was that of a young man wanting to be like his father, following his every footstep, acting like he did and embracing his “love” whenever I received it. But in high school when my father was released and came to live with us, I realized that he was not the person I wanted to be like. I wanted to be successful, I wanted to be there for my future family and I wanted to be a man of my word.

As time passed my relationship with my mother grew more and more and I felt a sense of responsibility for her. I felt like I needed to provide for her although her husband was already home. With my father now in the home he expected all of us to follow his every order, which my mother did but I did not. This caused multiple fights and arguments. It came to the point that he pulled a knife on me in one of his drunk moments. That solidified the relationship that we were going to have moving forward. I kept my guard up for the upcoming years and our relationship tore my mother apart. Although I had prayed for us to get better it only improved slightly.

I eventually went to college and I stayed with my parents for a long time. Things seemed to be getting better in our household until one day things just exploded. My parents were talking about separating which I was placed in the middle. It was at this point that I decided to leave San Diego and enrolled at CSU Northridge in the San Fernando Valley. I stayed there for two years while I finished my undergrad. I worked odd jobs and one night my fraternity brother showed me an ad for a peer counselor position at a high school. I took my chance, applied, and was hired to work for the Trio Program in their Educational Talent Search Program. I began working with high school students preparing them for college and ensuring they were taking the right classes to graduate. 30 of the 40 seniors I worked with went to a four year college, the rest went to community college and one entered the Army. I found something that I was passionate about… helping students.

Once I graduated, I came back home to help my mom take care of my grandma who had raised me for most of my life. I began to work for an after-school program, and I loved my job. I got to be around kids all day and be a role model for them. After a couple months I became a supervisor at a school that had 33% homeless youth, and many came from single mother households. It was at this time that I felt that I needed to create a program that catered to all students. In the time I was at Perkins K-8, with the help of my staff, our students received the best services from extra food during lunch to take home, activities that assisted them with their class work, to one on one conversations to make sure their mental health was good. I felt a strong connection to my students because most of them were going through things that I had gone through as a child. I wanted to better their lives even if it was for just a couple hours while they were in my program. I stayed at that site for a year and we saw such a difference from the first day to the time I left. I wanted to push myself to see how I would do in another job.

I was able to get a job working in the YMCA’s Youth and Family Services Kinship Support Program. In this job I had the pleasure and honor working with grandparents, who had taken in their grandkids because their parents were not in their life. I felt an instant connection with my caregivers because my grandma had taken me in and raised me when my parents could not. I gave them resources throughout their community. I ran a support group in which we spoke about their daily struggles and how they wanted to better for their lives for the sake of their grandchildren. Through this program I was able to learn better case managing skills and that is when I found Promises2Kids. I applied to this program because I felt a connection to their beliefs and the work they do for current and former foster youth. I wanted to start a career here. I wanted to be part of a team that helps students create the greatest version of themselves through their education. I always had a place in my heart for education and with Promises2Kids I was able to solidify that this is where I belong, this is my calling and this job, direct services, is what I was meant to do.

Mario Hernandez