I was born and raised in Queens, with just my brother and my mother. My mother is from San Salvador; she raised me and my brother alone all of our lives. Although it was just the three of us, there were always good times. My mother always had my best interest in her mind. We did not have much money growing up, but my mother made sure we always had a roof over our heads and food on our table.
In school, I did OK for a while, but that changed when I got to high school. I was not thinking about my future, missing classes and enjoying time with friends. My lack of motivation or of any goals regarding what I wanted to do after high school made it all seem unimportant, and I became extremely behind in my classes.
When I finally decided I wanted to get my act together, I realized just how much damage I had caused myself. I couldn’t believe how many classes I needed in order to graduate on time. I tried to take as many classes as I needed to graduate, but it became too overwhelming and difficult. To make matters worse, I started to compare myself to others and think about where I should have been, about all the mistakes I had made over the years. I felt like I was the only one struggling with passing all my classes. I began to feel it was impossible for me to graduate.
I almost gave up, but then my counselor told me about Young Adult Borough Center at Flushing High School, where The Child Center of NY serves as lead CBO [community-based organization]. She told me that YABC was what’s called an alternate high school that focuses on providing individual support to help over-age and under-credited students graduate. Just knowing that there was such a place immediately made me feel better and less alone — and like graduating might actually be possible.
When I first arrived at YABC at the age of 18, the staff was very understanding and nonjudgmental about my difficulty with high school. They wanted to get to know me and what caused me to have difficulty in school to prevent it from happening again. I told them that I needed a lot of classes in order to graduate, and in the past I had become overwhelmed with how many classes I needed. When I mentioned this to the staff, they made sure I took classes and arranged a schedule that would not overwhelm me. The teachers made the environment very relaxed and easygoing to follow along with materials. I have had issues with teachers in the past, but at YABC the teachers were all amazing, and a big part of what helped me succeed. They all want to see you graduate and are very easy to talk to. They want to get to know you, hear what brought you here, and give you advice and their opinions on problems you might have. Thanks to the teaching at YABC, even when I needed a lot of classes, I never once felt overwhelmed or stressed. I never failed a single class.
Most of the students had the same mindset of wanting to graduate and move forward with their lives. The majority of them had been through the same struggle of trying to graduate and were determined to make it happen. I caught on to that mindset quickly, which really helped me not to focus on trivial things; it reminded me what I came there for: to graduate and to focus on my future.
I began to realize that I really could graduate, and that I needed a plan for post-graduation. I talked to Alain Cedeno, Flushing YABC’s assistant program director and coordinator of the LTW (Learn to Work) Program, and he helped me gain valuable work experience through an internship at The Child Center of NY.
My duties as an intern varied day to day from calling vendors to filing paper work and just helping around if anyone needed something, from copying to scanning. Just doing these simple tasks benefited me a lot. For example, calling vendors and talking to people helped me develop communication skills and taught me how to be more vocal in my everyday life.
By interning at The Child Center of NY, I was able to explore different fields and positions. This helped me profoundly, since before I started working at The Child Center of NY, I did not have an idea of what I wanted to do after I graduated. However, through working for The Child Center, I was able to gain an understanding of fields that I would be interested in — especially finance.
As time passed, people started to give me more tasks, and I became more comfortable. A full-time position opened up as Account Payable Associate, and thanks to my job performance, my supervisors at The Child Center recommended me for the position — and I got the job! Now that I am working at The Child Center of NY, I’m gaining valuable skills and assets that will help me in the future.
That’s the biggest thing that YABC helped me with: helping me focus on my future. Now that I understand the possibilities I can achieve, I have a drive and desire to improve myself for the long term. This past January, I realized a goal that a few years ago seemed impossible: I graduated from YABC and earned my high school diploma! My plan now is to pursue a professionally rewarding career in finance. In order to do that, I need to go to college. This fall, I will be starting my associate degree in accounting at LaGuardia Community College. Then I will pursue my bachelor’s degree. My goal is to have a career in accounting and become financially independent.
I know now that there a lot of people out there like me who have struggled to keep up in school and may be overwhelmed and feeling hopeless. I wish those people will find YABC instead of giving up. At YABC, everyone’s goal is to make sure you graduate, and they understand that there is more to life after high school. The staff and teachers will help with any issue you have, from a problem at home to a teacher or student. They will help you look toward your future after high school, from helping you apply to colleges to assisting you in looking for alternate education options aside from college. Through the internship program, you will be able to gain firsthand workforce experience, from working with animals to senior citizens and a wide variety of jobs. And if you are not interested in an internship, they will still help you look for a job or simply help you with your resumé. They believe in you — and as a result, you will believe in yourself, too.