Karina grew up in the Rio Grande neighborhood and has been a part of the Ciudad Nueva youth programs since she was in third grade. She was referred by her school counselor, and soon after she got connected, her brother and older sister joined as well.
“I loved being there with the mentors,” says Karina. “The people who help are really welcoming, opening their lives and helping me and my family.”
A step of leadership begins a journey to college
“When I was a freshman, they asked me if I wanted to volunteer in the middle school program,” says Karina. “I would help them do the activities and lessons, helping teach the kids about God. I took that opportunity, and it helped me grow in my faith.”
She also can see now how that experience helped her prepare for college. It was her first step of leadership that took some courage, getting her out of her comfort zone.
“Karina is amazing and has been such a help with our middle school and even our high school program while she was involved in it,” says Keisha, Karina’s high school program leader at Ciudad Nueva.
“I volunteered again in my sophomore year and then my junior and senior years, I became an intern,” says Karina. “It was similar to volunteering, but I had more leadership and input in the program, and I was attending more staff meetings.”
Catalyst broadened her horizons
Catalyst is one aspect of Ciudad Nueva’s high school program. Students must apply and make a commitment to the program. They attend many seminars about college preparation and application as well as hearing from various professionals about their career and their educational paths.
“I started Catalyst my junior year,” says Karina. “I thought I wanted to be a chef and maybe I would go to school for it. But I was really planning on just working after school. Catalyst helped me consider other ideas and careers. It gave me more ideas, and helped me explore my interests. I decided I wanted to go into the medical field.”
One of the speakers that year was a gynecologist. At that point in the year, Karina had shifted her goals to becoming a nurse. But the connection that day was one that impacted the course of her life.
“After that speaker, I thought I could reach higher for my goals, maybe I should go big,” says Karina.
After doing a little more research and considering gynecology, Karina decided that she wants to be a general practitioner, which fits better with what she likes and wants to study.
“Catalyst was a huge help,” says Karina. “It helped me explore ideas about what I want and look into what I am interested in. They have a bunch of speakers about how to apply for scholarships and how to apply for college. I had no idea what I was doing at first, but they give you tips and teach you how to do it.”
Taking off for distant shores
Karina researched and applied to a few different places, but she learned about Johnson and Wales University through her culinary arts classes at school. So she applied and worked hard on her scholarship applications and is now finishing her freshman year in the health sciences program there. She plans to move on to medical school after, possibly at Texas Tech.
“Before I left, I told Keisha I was unsure about moving that far from home,” says Karina. “I was excited at first, but then I got nervous about moving that far away. She gave me so much support and encouraged me to follow my dream. She definitely helped motivate me to do what I wanted to without feeling regret or fear.”
“When she was in high school, I helped her work on her applications and helped her find a job for school,” says Keisha. “It was so inspiring because I could see that she knew there was more for her out there, and she pursued it. It is so important for our students to hear Karina’s story and see what she has accomplished.”
First year done … almost!
Her first year at college has had some cold weather and a little homesickness, but overall Karina has had a wonderful experience meeting new people and experiencing new things. And the best part is that all her classmates in college are in the same boat — they are all away from home for the first time!
“The people I have met so far are great,” says Karina. “They have become close friends to me. They know what is going on and we keep each other encouraged. Some days are hard, but it is going to be good for the long run.”
Karina’s message for her friends at Ciudad Nueva back in El Paso who are considering college: “Just go for it. I know it is hard at first, but it definitely is worth it. And also, participate in Catalyst. It is so helpful!”
Congratulations Karina. We are so proud of you!