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As told by Maria Rivera, former West40 ALOP student and current college student

“I grew up in the U.S., but when I was in first grade, my family moved to Guatemala for a while. We were there for a few years, until I was in sixth grade, so when we moved back to the Chicago area, my English wasn’t great.

After I had been at Morton East High School for a few years, I was struggling with academics. I was missing almost a full year of credits. So I was able to take advantage of West40’s ALOP program. The advocates created a credit recovery program for me. Around the same time, I found out I was pregnant. I knew that I had to keep going. I knew I wanted a better life for myself and for my child. West40’s advocates were there for me throughout my pregnancy journey and I built a relationship with them. They helped me with my classes and even gave me clothing for my baby.

At graduation, I was eight months pregnant. I remember my advocate and friend, Mr. Coe, making me laugh by saying they were going to have to carry me across the stage. Graduation was a difficult experience because I didn’t feel like myself. I didn’t look like myself. I was having problems with my family, I had been worried about graduating at all and I was concerned I’d never go to college after I had my baby. But I did make it through, thanks to all the staff at that school. I feel so grateful to them.

I went to Triton College, but it was hard to balance schoolwork with raising my child. I had to stop going to school for a while. Eventually, I restarted classes at Morton College and my student experience has been so different. Because I had a child, at first I went right home after classes. I wasn’t involved in any social events or extracurricular activities. But I loved my accounting classes and so I asked my instructors if there was an accounting club at the college. They said no, but that I should start one.

Soon I heard about a national organization called ALPFA, the Association of Latino Professionals for America. I went to their event at Loyola University in Chicago and I was amazed by how much they were helping people. They were celebrating students and giving people awards. I reached out to ALPFA and with their guidance I was able to create a local chapterat Morton College. It’s become a community for accounting and business students and it’s given Morton College the recognition it deserves. I’ve also been able to network with so many other people. You never know how you could help people in the future or how they might be able to help you.

To finish my schooling, I’m transferring to Roosevelt University and even applying for the honors program, which I never would’ve imagined for myself.

When I’m done I have a few dream jobs in mind, like working at a bank, or at the Federal Reserve. My long term goal is to work at the CIA—but that’s probably 15 years down the road.I just want our community to succeed and I want the bestfor all of us. Just like West40 helped me, I hope that by encouraging others, and through my work with the accounting club, I can help other young people find their way.”


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