Ana Alvarez (left) describes the difference Mary's Center has made in her life:
"I came to Mary's Center because my mother was a patient and thought it would be a good idea to enroll me in the Urbanitos Teen Program. Urbanitos was a work opportunity for high school students to encourage future involvement in the health sciences. It was in this program that I learned about sexual relationships, contraception, pregnancy prevention, substance abuse and self-esteem. I believe that had I not enrolled in this program and learned the things I did there, I may have become pregnant at an early age.
In Guatemala, I was not taught about issues such as self-esteem and self-improvement. My siblings and I were raised by my grandmother, because my mother moved to Washington DC in search of better opportunities. My grandmother died when I was ten years old and I was forced to become the primary caregiver to my younger siblings. My older sister was too consumed by her own pregnancy to worry about us.
My siblings and I lived alone and I had to quit school in 2nd grade to become a surrogate mother to my brothers and sisters. I didn't have any money, because my older sister squandered the money that my mom sent us from America. I was afraid, worried, hungry and poor and responsible for two other people who totally depended on me. I was determined to stay strong and I focused on the day when I could see my mother again.
At 15 years old, I reunited with my mother after ten years of separation. I had come to the United States dreaming of finding my mother but I ended up discovering so much more about myself. I had to learn to be courageous enough to adapt to a new culture, a new language and a new life. I had to be determined to succeed. I found this determination and support from my second family at Mary's Center.
When I arrived here, I didn't know how to read and write and I was placed in 9th grade. It was a difficult year for me and I failed the grade, but that didn't stop me. I repeated 9th grade and became one of the best students at my school, earning only As and Bs throughout my sophomore, junior and senior years. I was able to maintain my grades while working evenings cleaning office buildings in downtown DC. I am proud to say that I graduated from high school with honors.
I remember being scared when I thought about attending college, because I didn’t have any money and thought I couldn’t qualify for financial aid. No-one in my family had gone to college and my mother didn’t know anything about that world.
Mary's Center helped me find out what colleges would accept immigrant students like me. I was so happy to receive a full tuition scholarship to go to UDC and a $500 scholarship from Mary’s Center as a participant in the Teen Program. That helped me get started with books and other expenses at college. I am so grateful for that.
I completed my Bachelor’s in Health Education at UDC, graduating in May 2015.
I had been volunteering with the Cooking Matters program and the Mary’s Center Nutrition team since 2012, so I was thrilled to get a a full time position at Mary's Center as a Life Cycle Health Educator in the Health Promotions department. I love working with participants, empowering them with information about a healthy lifestyle and helping them change their lives.
I am so happy to be part of the Mary's Center's team! Now I can be a role model for other teens and patients, in the same way that so many people at Mary's Center were role models for me."