Maria talks about her YouthBuild program's focus on education and how that helped her find her passion.
Throughout history, education has contributed to an enhanced social and economic standing; even in colonial times, an education was the trait of a free and distinguished individual. Now, in the modern world, it has become increasingly imperative to seek out and attain a structured education in order to keep up with the growing cost of living. For Opportunity Youth in America, especially the 3.7 million low-income young people who are not in school or employed, this emphasis on education is crucial for their success because it can break both the social barriers that they have become accustomed to and the cycle of poverty.
Education became of high importance to me while growing up in a low-income, single-parent household. My father illustrated on a daily basis that education was our only hope of escaping the hardships we faced as a family – for the present and for future generations; that solidifying this credential could prevent us from financial and social adversities. When he died, his words become even more true to me, as I now had to face the challenges he once did when attempting to create a sustainable family household for my younger brother and myself. After dropping out of my traditional high school to get a full-time job to pay the growing bills, I faced many failed attempts to connect to meaningful employment. I then fully understood the barriers and what I needed to overcome, but most importantly that I was working backwards by ruling out education as the solution to my struggles.
Attending my YouthBuild program in Austin, Texas (American Youth Works) offered me not only the chance to resume my education, but a living stipend to address my financial issues as well. The program radiated a culture that was similar to the one my father established for me as a child -- that education was the key. They helped me comprehend that education fosters principles of equality and is the backbone of society, especially when coupled with community service. I was motivated to pursue not only my high school education but postsecondary education as well.
With the help of the YouthBuild PostSecondary Education Coordinator (Stacey Yates), my aspirations grew larger with each day that passed. Staff would not hesitate to let our goals soar, and directed them toward high demand occupations and correlated them to the credentials that were needed to fulfill that goal. The Coordinator made my dreams seem attainable and tangible, I’d never felt so close to success. I saw the need to further my education in order to establish a long- lasting and stable career.
I now have a trajectory in my life and a newfound passion to work with youth who may be facing challenges that most adults don’t face in an entire lifetime. Above all, I now know the meaning and effect an education may have on someone’s life. I know the effect it’s had on mine. And what I wouldn’t give to hear my father say to me “Maria, I told you so!”
Maria is enrolled at Austin Community College. She is currently pursuing a degree and career in radiology. Maria serves as the current Vice President of YouthBuild’s VOICES (Views on Improving Credential and Education Success) Student Advisory