I remember my teacher telling me about an information session for this thing called Breakthrough. And since there was going to be food and all of my friends were going, I went.

I had no idea that day would change my life. It was the first time anyone had ever talked to me about college. I grew up in East Austin…before it was trendy. Like many families in my neighborhood, my parents didn’t graduate high school.  My dad dropped out in middle school, and it wasn’t until I was in high school that my mom got her GED. My parents got divorced when I was 11 and my dad hasn’t really been in the picture since. This meant my mom has had to work three different jobs at times to support me and my younger brothers. She’s the best mom in the world, but a lot of the time she wasn’t at home for us after school, which meant I took on a lot of the responsibilities like taking care of my brothers, making sure there was food ready for them, helping them with homework, and even and keeping up their grades. To this day, my mom still says they listen to me more than her.

At Breakthrough I was able to find the help I needed to stay on track. During the summer programs I met a lot of new friends and we all had the common goal of being the first in our families to graduate from college.  Sometimes it was tough to go for 6 weeks every summer, but the teachers were young – college students – and my Breakthrough advisors Brian and Jenn made learning fun. Their support continued throughout the school year. Some of my best memories include walking from Kealing to the Breakthrough office to go to after school tutorials with my friends.

In 9th grade I started at Anderson High School, and that transition from a school in East Austin to one in North Austin was tough. It was like being dropped into a new city – a completely different side of town where I didn’t know anyone and there weren’t many people like me who came from low-income families. Don’t get me wrong, I was a great student at a magnet school, but it still didn’t prepare me enough for such a demanding school. It was like a slap in the face. I was lucky enough to have my Breakthrough advisor to meet with regularly and encourage me.

My junior and senior years were the hardest. I started working – sometimes up to 30 hours every week – to help out at home. The college application process was overwhelming. I had no idea where to start. There were so many questions. Sometimes it just seemed easier to give up. Although she worked a lot, my mom always encouraged me, but she didn’t have all the answers. Breakthrough was always there for me though. They helped me every step of the way, from college visits, to SAT/ACT prep, to help with financial aid and scholarships. I even got my very own college application coach. Her name was Ashley, and she would visit me every week at school to work on my essays. Four years later, we still keep in touch.

All my hard work paid off, and I was accepted to seven colleges! Ultimately I enrolled at St. Edward’s University, which offered the best financial aid and it’s been an amazing place for me. But applying to and starting college is just half the battle – figuring out how to stay motivated and graduate is just as important. College is hard! And life is hard! But Breakthrough never fails to be there to help me stay on track and navigate tough decisions, like when I chose to leave home so I could focus on my studies. Through Breakthrough’s Future Focus program I was able to secure a paid summer internship at Samsung Austin Semiconductor. I got to work in the Public Relations and Legal department for a year and a half! That experience has helped me figure out my career path, and my supervisor, Julie Fisher, has been a huge role model and mentor for me.

As of last week, I am now a senior. I will be graduating with a major in accounting and I’m considering grad school. Here I am, about to be the first in my family to graduate from college, with real professional work experience already on my resume.

I have no idea where I’d be without Breakthrough. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have gone to college. I’m not even sure I’d be here. Every year of high school, I lost friends to drugs, accidents, or murder. From my neighborhood, I think I’m the only one still in school. To this day, I still have doubts – real doubts about that I can make it. But on those days when I want to give up and just work full time, I think about my mom,  who’s here, and has worked so hard for me and my brothers, and I think about all the people at Breakthrough who have supported me along the way. That encouragement is what keeps me going. I want a better life for my family and to show other kids like me, who happen to grow up in a tough neighborhood, that YOU CAN and YOU DO DESERVE to go to college and further yourself. My dream in five years is to be a donor like many of you, at a Breakthrough fundraiser giving back so that other Breakthrough students have the same opportunities I have been blessed with. I am so grateful for all of the doors Breakthrough has opened for me over the last 10 years.