2020 taught many lessons to all of us, but one that UnidosNow kept on learning was to be the advocate and support system for our struggling scholars and families who were being disproportionately hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. UnidosNow adapted our programming and services to continue serving our families, but we also adapted our approach to last year’s Giving Challenge to ensure we had the resources to be there to support our families. Below, read Camila Fermin’s story, one of our Future Leaders Academy Barancik scholars to whom we’ve been able to help thanks, in part, to our successful 2020 Giving Challenge. In this essay, she recalls what 2020 meant for her and how UnidosNow was there to assist her.
By Camila Fermin, Future Leaders Academy Barancik Scholar
In March of 2020, I left school for Spring Break. Junior year is chaotic to say the least, so I was nothing but excited to have some days off. And then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and I became worried for the virus and disappointed I had to stay home, but I was still relieved to have more days off; “it will be just two weeks,” I thought. And then the break extended to the rest of the school year –– and then I stayed quarantined at home for about 9 months.
My transition to senior year was more stressful than it should have been, thanks to the virus outbreak. While I worked on my resume and personal statement in the Summer through the Future Leaders Academy, the burdens of this worldwide phenomenon started to affect my life. At first, I spent long days taking care of my 5-year-old brother as my mom worked. Later, my stepfather and my mom lost their jobs due to layoffs; so, I spent long days with them as well. This situation was the origin of a serious financial struggle that meant a source of worry for my family.
Despite these hard circumstances, I was fortunate enough to rely on my second family. UnidosNow provided me with a support system that guided me through the hardships of 2020. My household was only one of the hundreds who benefitted, and continue to benefit, from the creation of an Emergency Fund that arose from the altruism and advocacy of donors and community members. My family was offered help with rent and utilities, expenses that meant a heavy weight on our shoulders.
Beyond economic assistance, UnidosNow gave me the opportunity to be heard, mentored, and motivated. When one’s environment is out of our control, it is easier to lose incentive to work towards a goal, for it feels that we have no hold of our future to make this plan a reality. However, as an FLA Scholar, I looked forward to seeing the smiles of my hard-working peers, who never stopped trying, through Zoom meetings. The program’s volunteers and participants became one of reasons I realized that I had to continue acting to achieve my future objective of receiving an undergraduate education. Although I lost hope sometimes, thinking that I would never be able to afford college, I drew strength from their experiences and their drive along with the expertise of our mentors. With them, I overcame the challenges of remote classes and activities, exams, college applications, money issues, and personal frustrations.
This empowerment became possible because UnidosNow never stopped innovating. When in-person activities went against CDC guidelines, the team went virtual for meetings. When the problem of kids being academically behind emerged, the organization partnered with YourAdvance (a business founded by an FLA Scholar) to offer online tutoring. When the time to vote in the 2020 presidential elections came, a group of students worked with UnidosNow’s resources to launch the campaign Mi Voto Mi Futuro to promote the vote in Hispanic communities. UnidosNow delivers aid in the form of initiatives that serve youths while engaging them in the supply of these services, with the purpose of shaping them into leaders.
Today, as a young low-income woman who migrated from her homeland Venezuela only 3 years ago, I recognize the importance of optimism, sacrifice, and valuable relationships. I had the honor to serve as Class Speaker at my graduation ceremony; I conquered the obstacles that 2020 had for me, my generation, and the rest of the world; and I accepted a full ride at Stanford University, where I will head to in the Fall. UnidosNow is the pillar of these achievements. Thanks to the members of this organization and the donors who fund their labor, I did not only survive but thrived in my search for hope in the face of adversity.