Have you ever had someone believe in you so much that you learned to believe in yourself? I want to tell you about how Breakthrough’s belief in me has changed my life forever.

My family has deep roots in East Austin. I’ve lived in the same house my entire life – the same house my mom grew up in.  Both of my parents are here tonight and they have given me so much support.

In elementary school I made great grades. But my middle school experience was a different story. In fact I was asked to leave the magnet school I attended because I wasn’t passing my classes. I was stunned.

Looking back now as an adult, I realize I wasn’t just stunned, I was traumatized. I lost my friends and it was painful to be told I couldn’t succeed at that school. From that moment on, an awful thought stuck in my mind. I began to believe that I was not a good student, that I was not good enough.

That’s why Breakthrough came into my life at just the right time. I enrolled into the program the summer before 7th grade and I remember how excited my parents were as I filled out the application at our dining room table. During my first summer at the University of Texas, I spent six weeks with other students, all with dreams of going to college. I met summer teachers from around the country and amazing staff members, like Brian, who really cared for me. We did silly cheers, read books, completed math equations, and wrote stories. Most of all, we talked A LOT about college. The fact that we were almost all brown and black kids from the East side didn’t seem to lower anyone’s expectations of us. It felt like I belonged again.

Year after year, I would go to every Saturday program and spend my summers on the UT campus. But, that nagging doubt – that voice in my head that questioned my worth and my talent -continued throughout high school. Being with Breakthrough quieted that voice. My advisor would check in with me every week, reminding me that I had tackled challenging classes before. That constant support helped me push forward and not give up. I attended Breakthrough’s SAT prep classes, college visits, and application workshops. In 2013, I graduated from high school and enrolled at Austin Community College. I studied there for 2 years and loved it. Then I was excited to transfer to a large 4-year university. Although it was not the traditional college route, Breakthrough completely supported my decision.

Unfortunately, my first semester at this new school was another struggle for me. I had classes with more than 300 students. I felt like I was just a number. I was lost in the sea of students, and almost all looked more affluent and certainly more confident than me. That old feeling of self-doubt and of not belonging returned with a vengeance. I reached out to my Breakthrough advisor Daniel and he dropped everything and rushed to meet me on campus. Once again, I knew that Breakthrough would do anything in its power to help me succeed. After many conversations with Daniel, I ended up transferring to St. Edward’s University, where I plan to graduate with my bachelor’s degree in literature next May.

For the last twelve years I have heard my Breakthrough friends, teachers, and advisors tell me, “You can do it.” I am incredibly proud to say tonight that I believe those words. I believe in myself. I KNOW I have this! I WILL be the first in my family to graduate from college.

The challenge of being a first-generation college student and a Latina from a low-income neighborhood is not unusual. Very few of my friends from my elementary school made it to college. Year after year, I saw them face the challenges of navigating complicated school systems, of seeing their worth measured in standardized tests, of having to put other priorities first – like work and caring for family members – that are real for individuals in poverty.  I’ve also seen the injustice of gentrification take over my neighborhood in the blink of an eye.

While Austin is often praised as an amazing place to live, I’ve seen just how hard it can be for those who don’t have access to resources and a voice in decision making. I was lucky to have Breakthrough in my life, but most students and families in my neighborhood did not. That’s why I’m so happy to see how much the program has grown these last 12 years.

Breakthrough’s not going to stop and I’m not going to stop here. After I graduate from college, I will launch my career as a journalist. I can’t wait to share stories of hope and inspiration from our most marginalized communities, as my way of paying it forward.

Thank you for listening to my story and for supporting Breakthrough. You are giving me and other students the opportunity of a lifetime: To be able to graduate from college and make our mark on the world.