Voices of YPI: Ilene Garcia

Voices of YPI: Ilene Garcia

Ilene Garcia, a teenage student at the STEM Academy in Hollywood, drew loud cheers when she spoke of her experience growing up poor in Los Angeles. Born to a single mother who has worked as a janitor in the city for two decades, Garcia said her family has been forced to move at least five times in recent years while struggling to cover rent.

At the April 9 Rally to End Child Poverty, high school senior IIene Garcia joined civil rights icon John Lewis and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi at the podium in support of California Assembly Bill 1520. The bill aims to cut child poverty in half in two decades, using the models of success deployed since 2012 in the Los Angeles Promise Neighborhoods and Promise Zones.

Ilene attends a Promise Zone high school—STEM Academy of Hollywood—and commutes one hour each way. When she gave birth to Nickolas the summer before junior year, she was afraid she would have to drop out: there was so much responsibility at home. Her mother was undocumented and didn’t speak English, her father was absent, and her younger sisters needed Ilene to be that second parent they didn’t have. She recognized her challenges and rose to meet them. “I come home from work and do the cooking and cleaning before I even get to my homework and studies,” Ilene said.

Ilene was also a regular at her high school’s College Center led by Youth Policy Institute. YPI’s teams helped Ilene get a summer job to help support the family, while she focused on her studies and applied to college. “I, too, am a single mother,” Ilene says, “But I refuse to let statistics define me.”

Now, thankful for the support of YPI’s college and career ambassadors, she’s heading to UCLA this fall, where she plans to study biology.

3-minute video

Watch Mayor Eric Garcetti highlight Ilene’s story in his State of the City address on April 20, 2017.

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