My name is Darlene and I’m 21 years old. I come from a really big family. My mom and dad have six kids and I’m the oldest. My parents both moved to Los Angeles from Mexico. My mother was 13 years old when she arrived and my father was 16. Funny enough, they didn’t meet until they were here, although they both grew up in Guanajuato, Mexico. My dad was from the rural area and my mom was from the city.
Both of my parents never finished high school. My mom actually dropped out in 12th grade because she had to go back to Mexico to help my uncle. Immediately following that she married my father. My father dropped out of school when he was in 6th grade. He had to focus on work because he was the oldest male in his household.
Currently, my mom has a few different jobs. Right now she has her own business cleaning houses. She also sells fruit and perfumes. Anything she can sell, she sells. My father works in construction and landscaping.
My family and I are really crazy. One of my favorite things about us is that we never end up fighting for a long time. One of us will eventually saying something really hilarious and we all just start laughing. One of the other things I love is that we’re all really hard workers. No matter what the situation is, we’ll get through it. We’ve been through some horrible struggles, but we always find a way to work together and get through it.
About one or two years ago, we were having a problem with my uncle. His house burned down, so we offered to take him and his family in. The only place we could offer was the living room because we didn’t have any other space. We ended up putting the LADWP bill in his name. We would give him the money and he would supposedly pay the bills, but he never did. He kept it for himself. It resulted in a bill that was $6,800, so LADWP turned our water and power off. We obviously couldn’t make up that much money in one go because we had a lot of other expenses. Our car had just broken down and we had to deal with that. To come up with almost $7,000 wasn’t happening, so we went all of November, December, January and February without water or power.
It was horrible. We had a three-year-old in the house. It was dark. For all those months it was just darkness. It was especially hard on the big days—Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve. Luckily this was one of those situations where my mom stepped up and did whatever she could to make the situation better. She went to the neighbors and convinced them to let us borrow their hose, so we could fill up those containers people use to capture rain. They would give us some of their water and they also lent us a chord from their house for electricity so we could power our fridge.
It ended up being one of those things that brought us closer together. We started talking to a Catholic church close to our house. The person in charge knew my mom from when she was little—when she was going to San Fernando. She would sell corn on the cob and fruit outside the church and they remembered her. He and the church helped us. They gave us $3,000. It was a total blessing. We put that money towards the bill and our landlord allowed us to pay our rent a month late. On March 6th, LADWP came at night to turn everything back on. When the lights came on and we heard the water running, my little brothers were jumping all over the place and running around.
It was so funny. We probably looked like crazy people, but it was an amazing moment. Looking back, that is definitely of the biggest things we overcame as a family.
The house where the electricity and power went out is the house I’ve lived in the longest. We moved a lot. It was always to improve how we were living, but it was really hard at the time. I never really stayed more than a few years in a school. I went to Sepulveda for 6th grade and then San Fernando Middle School for 7th and 8th grade. Then we moved back to Balboa, so I went to Birmingham High School Charter Academy. That was my favorite school. The teachers were really engaged and I was in a lot of clubs. I was really active there. We moved back to Balboa in the middle of 10th grade, but I was still enrolled at Birmingham. I would take three buses in the morning and then three coming back. I wouldn’t get home until 8 or 9 p.m. sometimes, so my mom took my out of Birmingham and I went to San Fernando High School. It was a hard transition. All the work I did at Birmingham wasn’t counted, so I had to start all over again.
To make a long story short, the transition was so hard for me because all of the classes were different. I was lost. I ended up doing a homeschool course online but decided at one point that wasn’t right for me. I tried to go back to regular school, but had problems getting my transcripts sent over. I dropped out of high school with only 12th grade left to complete and focused on working full time.
I wanted to work because I wanted my own money, but I would constantly have to help my family. My parents were going through something, so things were hard at home. I had to work to help my mom because she was having kids. She would say, “I’m going to need your help. I’m going to need you for this baby.” How was I going to leave her? I had to be the one to step up and work and help her out with everything.
Then I heard about the Assurance Learning Academy at the YouthSource Center and that’s when I decided I was going back to school. That’s when I first heard about YPI. I came to orientation and met Brenda. She talked about a program where I could not only get work experience but where I would also work with a case manager. She explained that the case manager would help you through the entire process and be there for you. I thought maybe this is exactly what I needed to stick with it. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.
My involvement with YPI has been life changing for me. This is the type of support that I needed that I could never find at home. At home I always had to be strong. Even growing up, if I ever needed help on my school work, I always had to do it myself. And now with my brothers, I’m the one who has to somehow magically help them. I really wanted someone to help me for once and YPI did.
Carmen—my case manager—and I decided that WIOA would be right for me. She explained that the program would support me through both the completion of high school and college. That was such an incredible motivation for me. I am currently 25 credits away from completing high school.
I also completed a paid internship working at the YPI office. I started in January and ended a few weeks ago. It was for a total of 120 hours. I also joined the WorkForce 101 program with Candy. I learned so much about the inner workings of a business. I learned about resumes, interviews, and cover letters. I also learned about Microsoft and Excel.
Carmen has specifically been a great help to me, but there’s been a group of amazing and wonderful people who are there for you and help you. It amazes me. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to thank them for everything they’ve done for me. I doubt they realize the impact that they have on so many people.
My future goals are to complete high school once and for all and to work with children.
Originally, I thought I wanted to be a teacher, but lately I’ve wanted to pursue psychology. I want to work one-on-one with kids and help them get through the problems that they’re facing. I want to be a therapist for little kids and teens. If someone could have come to me at that age and helped me out with the stuff I was going through mentally that would have been invaluable.
If I had a magic wand and I could wave it and change one thing, I would make everybody feel that they are loved and that they are important. At the worst times, I’ve felt like I’m just there. Insignificant. I’d want everybody—from the smallest to the biggest and the youngest to the oldest—to know that there is somebody out there that cares.