April 15, 2005

Changing their own realities

By Pablo Jaime Sainz

Although many people might look at selling flowers on the side of the road like something negative, Arlene Alvarez said she’s proud to have done just that in order to help her family survive economically.

“It wasn’t something bad at all,” said Arlene, who is a senior at University City High School. “I met a lot of people selling flowers. It was a good experience.”

Thanks to her positive attitude, Arlene was able to overcome many challenges, especially economic burdens.


Reality Changers changed the lives of these three students: (left to right) Miguel Ceron, Bernice Ramirez, and Arlene Alvarez pictured with director Christopher Yanov.

“Even though my dad lost his job, my family is making it,” said Arlene, who was born in Sonora and migrated to San Diego when she was a baby. “Landscaping is not a stable job, but we’re still getting ahead.”

Now Arlene’s family won’t have to worry about money when it comes to paying for her college education: She’s one of three students from the original class of Reality Changers that have been offered full ride scholarships to prestigious universities.

Created in 2001, Reality Changers is an inner city program dedicated to building first generation college students.

And in Arlene’s case, her reality has changed tremendously since joining the program. She received a complete financial package worth $181,000 to attend Northwestern University, where she plans to major in Political Science.

Reality Changers students, including Arlene, have several things in common: They are the first member of their families to attend college, they come from low-economic backgrounds, and they are, for the most part, Latinos.

Christopher Yanov, executive director of Reality Changers, said the program was created to reduce the drop-out rate among low-income students and to encourage them to get good grades.

“We were noticing that many students were getting A’s and B’s. But once they were reaching high school, their grades start falling. So our goal is to reach out to kids during middle school and give them the support they need to continue doing well through out their high school years,” he said.

Now that the first class is graduating in June, Yanov is seeing the positive results.“I’m glad to see that it’s possible, that our students’ effort paid off. We really have a lot of smart students,” he said.

One of those students is Miguel Ceron, who attends Madison High School.

Two weeks ago, Miguel found out he had been accepted to Harvard University. “That’s where I wanted to go since middle school. It was just a dream. But then everybody kept on telling me, ‘You’re going to make it!’”

When Miguel opened his e-mail inbox, he read the e-mail with the news. “I started running and screaming around the house. But since there was no one around, I didn’t know who to tell. So I started calling my friends through the phone and telling them. I couldn’t believe it!,” said Miguel, who was born in Mexico City, and moved to the United States when he was 2. At Harvard, he plans to major in corporate law.

“I guess I used to argue a lot when I was little. My dad would always tell me, ‘You’d make a good lawyer!’”

Miguel’s mother, Aurelia Ceron, remembers the first time he told her he wanted to attend Harvard.

“He was just a little boy, I think he was 9,” she said. “Now that he has achieved this great goal, I know that Miguel has achieved his dreams.”

Nevertheless, Mrs. Ceron said she’s starting to feel a little bit sad now that Miguel will be heading to the East Coast.

“As Hispanic parents, my husband and I are feeling nostalgia. But we know this is something Miguel has to do and we give him all of our support. We know it’s the best for him.”

Also, she said that when they found out Miguel got a full ride scholarship, the family felt an economic burden off their shoulders.

“When Miguel told us he wanted to go to Harvard, my husband and I thought, ‘How are we going to pay for a private university?’ But now we feel everything is great.”

Another Reality Changers student, Bernice Ramirez, received a financial package worth $175,000 from Grinnell University, where she plans to major in Biology.

Just like she had overcome all the adversities she had faced in her life, such as growing up without ever knowing her father and in a barrio where it is more common for young people to join gangs than to finish high school, Bernice was able to pull things together and managed to maintain a high grade point average in school. “I got a lot of support from Reality Changers.”

If you or someone you know would like to become a Reality Changer, you can call (619) 232-1998 for further information. You can also visit www.realitychangers.org.

Return to the Frontpage