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Jenni’s Story: YA! Program Alumni Highlight

December 12, 2018

Throughout the week, we’re highlighting recent graduates from CLUES’ YA! Program. Since 2011, the program has guided more than 120 high school students to achieve their hopes and dreams through one-on-one mentoring, coaching institutes, academic support and community service-learning projects. Please consider supporting the YA! Program with a year-end financial gift! Thanks to a generous donation from the Land O’ Lakes Amigos group, all donations will be matched up to $5,000. Learn more here.

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Jenni’s Story

Jenni is a first-generation Mexican American student. She graduated from Washington Tech High School in the Spring of 2018, and now attends Carleton College.

How did the YA! Program and your mentor prepare you for your life after high school?

I’ve stayed with my mentor for three years. It’s been really cool. She’s really encouraging and she’ll push me to do things. We like a lot of the same things. We are both introverted and like to read, and our college selections were pretty close.

In the beginning when I joined, I was awkward and shy. I knew I wanted to do a lot of stuff, but I didn’t know how to do it or if I could do it. So a lot of times my mentor would say “Well, why aren’t you doing it? You’ve got to go do it.” And she gave me that extra push that would say “Okay you did this, which means that now you can do this, and now you can do this, and this.” Until eventually I got to the point where I didn’t need her to tell me to do it. I would think, “Nicole thinks I’m capable, so I think I am capable.”

Are there specific activities/lessons/opportunities YA! provides that especially impacted you?

There was one workshop that focused on life things that they don’t teach you in school. We learned about things like how to do laundry, healthy relationships and how to take care of yourself in terms of mental and physical health. They don’t really teach you that anywhere else, so I thought it was cool.

Can you share your favorite memory of YA?

There are a lot of good times. During the summer of last year, we had a girls’ retreat. We were put in groups and I had my own little group with 5-6 other girls and Ms. Tanya. We all talked about life. I looked at these girls and thought “They look different from me, we are all Mexican, we are all Hispanic looking, but I’m a little weird so I’ll stay at the sidelines.” But it was the first time we all had a good time together, we laughed together and we cried together. It was pretty cool.

What have you learned about yourself throughout your journey with the YA! Program?

I’m quiet, I’m introverted, I don’t like talking in front of people. I want to speak up and I want to get ideas out there, but it’s not always easy when you’re so used to thinking “Someone else is going to say it, so I won’t say anything.” But YA! teaches you that no one is going to say it unless you do – or no one will say it the way that you say it. So if you have an idea or if you have some kind of input in the discussion, the only one who will get your voice heard is you. It was a really important lesson and even helped me with stuff like college interviews for scholarships.

Why do you think programs like YA! are important?

When people talk about people of color, they don’t always focus on Latinos – a lot of times we are overlooked. We need a space for us to really connect with each other. A lot of us go to schools where it’s predominately not Latino, but here we can all tell our stories and we all have a similar background. I feel like a lot of us get a push out of that, and when we see one of us succeed, we all want to succeed too.

When I first joined, I was always watching the older Latina girls. When they succeeded and said “I’m going to this school” or “I got this scholarship,” I thought, “I want to be just like you.” A lot of us don’t learn the things YA! teaches us from school. Students plan out the meetings and we learn things about the world that connect to Latinos – and we all listen more because we are hearing it from Latinos. I think programs like YA! empower us and encourage us to be better than we are now.

What message or advice do you have for younger Latino students?

Some of us think that we have a limit to how “smart” we can be. We think, “I’m not that smart, I can’t do that.” But that’s not true. Some of us look toward stereotypes that people pin on us and think “I can only go up to this because I’m a Latino or I’m a Latina.” But no. If you want to be a top student, if you want to go to a super selective college, then do it! Go for it. The only time it’s completely off the board is when you tell yourself that you’re giving up. But if you say, “Hey, I’m going to do this because I CAN do it,” then you can find an inner push that keeps you going. It’s not because you’re smarter than others, it’s because you work hard. In the end, you turn out stronger than when you first began. It’ll be hard and sometimes you’ll doubt yourself, but you’ll always find a support group that can see the power in you that you want to feel in yourself.

What does it mean to you and your family to graduate?

A lot of our parents weren’t born here and had to go through a lot to get here. They always tell us “We got here so YOU could have a better future.” So me succeeding is a way for me to tell them “You worked hard for a reason. You did good by going through all those struggles.” Or “Your struggles aren’t in vain, because I’m going to do really well. And I’m going to go to the top. I appreciate what you did for me.”

My dad is the smartest man in the world. Others might see him and think “Oh, he’s a factory worker.” But for me, he’s the wisest, smartest man in the world. He never got to go to college. He wanted to, but he didn’t have the money. So for me, it’s like I’m living out my dream so he can see his dream in me. It makes me really happy – even though he didn’t go to college, it’s like I’m saying “I’ve got you, Dad. I’m going to make it, so don’t worry about me.”

What’s next for you?

I’m attending Carleton College. After that, I don’t know. I like psychology, I like political science, I like literature, I like reading and writing. I’m looking forward to working hard.

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If you would like to support students like Jenni in achieving their hopes and dreams, consider becoming YA! Program mentor or making a donation to the YA! Program. Thanks to a generous donation from the Land O’ Lakes Amigos group, all donations will be matched up to $5,000! Learn more here.

Posted in CLUES Blog by Austin Wiebe