CJ’s passion for giving back to the community doesn’t stop with his paramedic services in saving hundreds of lives, but also in the kids that he mentors through the CIS alumni program. He says, “I save lives because they (CIS) saved mine”.
High school was extremely difficult for CJ. His parents were separated, he dealt with the loss of his grandmother, battled anxiety and depression and was in trouble with the law. He didn’t see himself as college material. Dreams about his future were bleak and often overshadowed by the troubles at home.
On the verge of dropping out of school, CJ was introduced to Ms. Richter, his CIS site coordinator who took him in and invited him to join her XY Zone group which supports young men on their journey to manhood. CJ took advantage of the support group and began to discover what it meant to be a man, a leader, and began to explore his dreams for the future.
With hard work and self-reflection, he realized he wanted to pursue a career in the medical field. He told Ms. Richter he wanted to be an EMT and through a partnership between CIS and the local police department they covered the cost of his classes for EMT school.
With this newly discovered passion, CJ successfully completed his senior coursework to graduate from high school, attended EMT Academy and received his EMT certification and became the first XY Zone Blue Shirt, the highest level of leadership in the group.
Even as a full-time working adult, CJ makes time to mentor younger graduates. He volunteers as paramedic on most of the affiliate’s alumni camping trips and is a constant resource during alumni programming and medical emergencies. He has recently applied for a full ride scholarship to Fire School and hopes to soon become a fire fighter.
I did not have the luxury of a stable home throughout my life. I never came out about the abuse I faced because it was so normalized. The last semester of my senior year of high school, I decided I could not continue to live silent. I spoke out, had to leave my home with a Walmart bag stuffed with sentimental items, and was never able to look back.
From one day to the next, I was labeled as a homeless student and had to rebuild my entire life – right before graduating high school and enrolling into a university. It was through hard work and self-determination that I maintained a 4.0 GPA and ranked in the top 10 in my class. This self-reliance led me to develop a strong work ethic and time-management skills as I learned to balance the demands of supporting myself financially with multiple jobs, taking all advanced placement classes, and participating in leadership roles in my extracurricular activities.
I knew I deserved to go to college, but I did not know exactly what I needed to do to get there. It was then that I met CIS Site Coordinator Sarah Joy.
Ms. Joy changed my life. She changed it. No exaggerations. No embellishments. No overstatements. Ms. Joy changed my life in her office when she gave me watercolor paints and paper and just let me talk. I felt like I lost my entire life and family, but I wasn’t forgotten because there was Ms. Joy.
She was that trusting adult I could go to for help with unpacking all my trauma through art therapy and to answer questions like, “Where can I get food?”, “What is a FAFSA?”, “How do I file my taxes?”, “Where can I get my immunization records and meningitis shot?”, “Do you have extra folders and socks?”, “Where do I get my SSN card reprinted?”, “Can you help me get a prom dress?”, “I have a kidney infection… what do I do?”, “I am accepted to college! What next?”, “Do you have a cap and gown in my size?” Her unquestionable support was the reason I walked the stage with my graduating class and enrolled in my first semester of college in the fall.
But I was even more fortunate to meet another courageous woman who changed my life, CIS’s Director of College and Alumni Initiatives Ms. Liberty. I met Ms. Liberty on the due date of local scholarships. I had completed all my essays and everything I needed to turn my forms in, but I didn’t know how or where to make copies and also attend class. Ms. Liberty spoke to my teachers to let me leave class and that day we applied to 37 scholarships. I was awarded 16 of them.
After I graduated, I stayed in contact with Ms. Liberty. She ran a program for CIS alumni who share similar life experiences to mentor other first-generation college, military and workforce students. I have attended many of Ms. Liberty’s intensive wilderness retreats, from working through a difficult 7,000-plus foot peak hike to counseling sessions in 10,000-year-old caves. My CIS alumni family surrounds each other with a community of support as we transition from high school graduates to EMTs, army officers, nurses, policymakers, teachers, social workers, and loving mothers and fathers.
Everyone I have met in this family has taught me the meaning of charity, kindness, loyalty, and courage. As a result of CIS’s support, I graduated in May 2019 with my bachelor’s degree in dramatic media from Texas Lutheran University. I am pursuing a career in theatre education so I can teach at-risk youth populations at low performing schools. As a survivor of sexual abuse, I would like to be a public servant and create a better society for students who have been deprived of parental support and victims of abuse. My personal struggle has developed in me a strong drive and community.
I believe that every child deserves the opportunity to succeed and the key to creating these opportunities for success is through community service and the arts. Because theatre has aided my personal development, my goal is to have students who have experienced trauma find context and express themselves through the performing arts in order to enhance their physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. Just as CIS did for me.
Ronnie joined CIS at New Braunfels High School her junior year. Her depression had become very bad and she didn’t know who to turn to or who she could trust. Her life was spiraling out of control. She had no idea what she was doing with her life or what she needed to improve upon. What she did know was that she needed to ask for help. Self-advocacy was a skill she knew well and used often. The first time she visited CIS and met Ms. Da’Liyah, her Site Coordinator, she knew she had found a place of safety. With time she found that she could talk to her Site Coordinator about her family issues, grades, depression, and overthinking. CIS provided tools for Ronnie to improve her communication and coping skills, strengthen her self-esteem and overall mental health, promote behavior change, and identify goals and potential solutions to situations that generated emotional distress. Having someone at school to address these needs was life-changing for a teen who entered the foster care system at 8 years old.
From 8-12 years of age, Ronnie lived in foster homes after being permanently removed from her mother who abused drugs and kept Ronnie and her siblings out of school for 2 years. At 12 years old Ronnie was adopted. At first the adopted family was like a fairytale. She had a new mom and new brother. As time went on her adopted mom and brother became angry and verbally abusive. The breaking point happened Spring Break of her sophomore year when she found herself at the local fire station reporting that she had been kicked out of her adoptive family’s home. With nowhere to go Ronnie called a friend from NBHS. Her friend’s family was an incredible blessing and allowed Ronnie to move in with them. The overlapping traumas that Ronnie had experienced made building and maintaining relationships difficult. CIS played an important role in providing the social, emotional, and educational supports needed to help Ronnie continue to grow and change.
At the beginning of Ronnie’s senior year, she began attending CIS’s college, career, and life transition program called Project Success. By the end of the year she had applied to San Antonio Community College and was excited to begin her studies in the Fall of 2021. Ronnie declared a major in Social Work and shares that she “wants to help people.” Ronnie recalls “I was in so many foster homes when I was young. As a foster child, I needed a Social Worker who I knew would be there for me when I needed them the most. I was scared to talk and trust anyone, but I adored my Social Worker. She was always willing to assist me with whatever I required and she loved me. I want to be a Social Worker similar to mine so that other children in foster care realize they are not alone in their struggles. I want to help people and be available for any child that is in need of help.”
School has always been a priority to Ronnie! Meeting CIS and participating in Project Success’ Summer Life Bootcamp program helped her “meet new people, get out of my comfort zone, but most of all, not be scared to share my story with others who deal with the same problems or have it even worse. At Bootcamp, “I learned to not be afraid to speak, improve myself as a person, and enjoy what I have in life because it’s not the end of the world. If you have one bad day it doesn’t mean it lasts forever.”
When asked where Ronnie thinks she’d be without CIS she stated “If I didn’t join CIS, I would probably not be in college or have the friends I have. I would be at home procrastinating and not have a job. Since I joined CIS I have been the happiest person. I have a great job and I’m in college. CIS has taught me to work hard and they have helped me be a better version of myself. CIS is the light to my life and the place I most trust.”
Trinity joined Communities In Schools at Seguin High School her junior year after her high school counselor referred her for anxiety and depression. These two mental health issues had been plaguing Trinity since the 6th grade when abuse issues began. During middle school and the beginning of high school she learned to ignore the depression and anxiety, which meant it didn’t surface very often. Once Trinity got into her junior year and her home life became more chaotic she began to have panic attacks. Her parents were fighting all the time. As the oldest of 5 siblings Trinity took on the role of caregiver. The stress at home and stress at school began to mount. She couldn’t focus. She didn’t want to be at school or at home so she began skipping classes. Sometimes she would hide in the bathroom and cry. That was until she was introduced to Mrs. Esparza her CIS Site Coordinator. Mrs. Esparza helped her learn coping skills so she could effectively deal with her stress. She was a caring adult on her high school campus that she could always depend on and talk to when she was having a bad day. By senior year Trinity was ready to put her focus on college. She began attending CIS’s Project Success program. During weekly Project Success meetings Trinity received one-on-one college and workforce counseling that helped her achieve her goal of attending a university. The day she was accepted into Texas Tech University was a day of triumph!
As the reality of COVID hit in late March and schools were shut the stress began again. This time she knew to lean on CIS. She attended weekly Project Success Zoom meetings, which were facilitated by Ms. Liberty and some of the CIS Alumni. High school seniors from the 6 CIS high schools were in attendance and when needed she received one on one support. She now understood the importance of accepting her feelings and that it was “okay to not be okay”. As summer came around Trinity knew it would be important to continue receiving services from CIS so she joined CIS’s summer Life Bootcamp program. During Bootcamp Trinity learned transition skills, which gave her the tools to embrace the challenges that she would face as a first generation college student. She discovered “I can do anything I set my mind to” and “that while life might not be easy, I have the fortitude to keep pushing and moving forward”.
CIS continues to support Trinity on her college and career journey. She has a CIS Alumni Peer Mentor and receives ongoing support, counseling, and encouragement. It is funders like you who play an important role in helping students find their way out of difficult situations. Because of your financial support Trinity is a thriving freshman at Texas Tech University working towards her BA in Sociology with the goal of becoming an Occupational Therapist. CIS and Project Success are important programs to the students and families we serve because “it shows students like me that we can have a bright future no matter the hardships. It gives us hope for a better life. Without CIS and Project Success, many of our youth will remain trapped in a cycle of poverty”.