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Avanzando towards the future

It is Saturday 9 am, the first sunny day in Chicago after a few days of rain. Many teenagers take advantage of the weekend to rest and sleep a few hours later than usual. Abril Santos, however, arrives at 9 am to Francisco I. Madero Middle School in the company of her family, her mom, her stepdad and her grandma. Abril has just completed her last year of high school at Farragut Career Academy and this Saturday, June 24, she celebrated the culmination of her participation in AVANZA, a program at Enlace Chicago.

Abril shares how important AVANZA was on her way to higher education. "It was a pleasant experience,” she declares. “With the help of Joselin, I was able to explore different options of scholarships and universities to continue my studies. I was able to have a lot of communication with her and she made me feel very good.” In addition to guiding Abril in her application process, Joselin also provided information and emotional support to Abril's mother, who lacked information in Spanish about the process of her daughter entering college. Abril will move in August to St. Olaf College in Minnesota, where she will continue to move forward into her future.

For the post-secondary coordinators of AVANZA, Joselin Cisneros and Quintiliano Ríos-Perez, there is not one day the same as the other. "Every day is different, because all our students are different," they explain. "Our activities vary from day to day and month to month." The beginning of the school year is intended to establish a relationship with students, and to provide them with information about how the program can support them in their post-secondary planning process. "The doors of our office are always open for students. They generally use lunch periods and hours after school to come and talk with us," explain Joselin and Quintiliano.

Joselin Cisneros has spent nearly (4) years as the Post-Secondary Coordinator at Farragut Career Academy. Joselin shares why working with students is not just a job, but a topic very close to her heart. "I do what I do because of my own experience of navigating the education system. I had to transfer three (3) times just to complete my college degree. Having people's support ... friends, helped me. Our students go through fear and sometimes depression. When I graduated high school and began college, my best friend and I decided to go back to our high school, Benito Juarez, to help mentor undocumented seniors and I realized I wanted to continue doing that."

For Quintiliano Rios-Perez, Post-Secondary Coordinator of Little Village Lawndale High School campus for the last four (4) years, his personal experience is what brought him to this profession. "I was lucky enough to be part of two (2) post-secondary programs in high school, and that prepared me to have a better college experience. I wanted to provide the same support I got. "

Both coordinators extend this passion to their personal lives, participating voluntarily in Anhelo Project, which awards scholarships to undocumented students for higher education, and the Back of the Yards Dreamers and Allies Run.

"Our mission is to help all students, especially undocumented students, who must face the challenge of finding financial assistance to pay for their studies," they explain. As part of their work, both are part of the Dreamers Unidos Scholarship Fund, an initiative of Enlace staff, community youth and volunteers, who raise money and grant scholarships for La Villita students. They also participate actively in various committees and tables, such as the Little Village Education Collaborative- High School Post-Secondary Committee- to improve student access to opportunities and resources. "We try to vocalize the concerns and obstacles that students find on their path to higher education."

Jack Beltran, is one of the students of Farragut Career Academy, and a participant of the AVANZA program this year. For Jack, Joselin was fundamental in the process of applying to Universities. "During the whole process, I was nervous and confused. Joselin helped me. Her words and friendly attitude helped me to feel better. She assisted me throughout the entire process. I'm going to UIC this fall and I got the DELL scholarship. "

Each coordinator has a cohort of 40 students, and they assist them not only with applications and technical aspects, but also with family and personal issues. "We try to provide emotional support and also create a support network with school staff, counselors, teachers and administrative staff, who can provide them with help in whatever way they need." Quinti explains that he works closely with the campus Post-Secondary Leadership team, with whom he meets weekly. Joselin collaborates directly with the school counselor and Gear-Up Post-Secondary Team to ensure students access to resources.

David Quintero, is also a graduate of Farragut Career Academy and participant of Avanza. Thanks to the assistance of the program, David will begin this fall at UIC. "Joselin was very helpful. She broke down everything for me, and told me what were the steps where I needed to take action. She is relatable, she makes you feel like you are part of a family. I learned about AVANZA through a teacher at the start of my junior year. My mom thought it was a great program, and a source of support that I needed because she could not help me with the process. I'm going to UIC. I want to study Criminology and get a Masters in Forensics. "

Betsy Jimenez is one of the graduates of Little Village Lawndale High School Campus, she has just finished her last year in World Language. She tells us that Quinti was important in her life. "He was a great help. He helped me not to give up. I did not want to go to college, but now I'm going to Malcolm X because I want to be an educator. I like how Quinti talks to you, like a friend. Quinti also met my mom and helped me get my community hours so I could graduate from high school. "

The AVANZA program and staff works in direct collaboration with the education team of our community schools. Both coordinators, Quinti and Joselin, do not have just one, but many, stories of the success and perseverance of La Villita students, who do not stop working and fighting to achieve the dream of education, a basic and inalienable right to any human being.

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