News: College Access & Success

"I Wanted to Change this Chain of Poverty and Drug Abuse"

Thursday, July 5, 2018  
Posted by: Jamese Carrell, Member Services Associate
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For students underrepresented in higher education like Matisse from Mississippi, whose story appears below, every dollar counts when piecing together a financial aid package. NCAN calls on policymakers to simplify the FAFSA and increase funding for Pell Grants and the Federal Work-Study program. Check out our complete federal policy recommendations.

Ronald Moreno, a high school senior at The Preuss School at University of California San Diego, never had a place to call home. In the 8th grade, his family got evicted from their apartment because of unpaid bills. They were homeless, had no other relatives to stay with and ultimately nowhere to go, so they ended up staying in a motel. With the financial strains weighing solely on his mother, Ronald started to work to provide additional income. His grades began to drop as he struggled to balance his newfound role as a financial provider with his academic life at the college-prep charter school.

“I just wanted my mom to be happy,” Ronald said.

San Diego-based NCAN member Reality Changers (RC) would fill that void, as a support team and at times even providing Ronald with financial assistance to pay for rent and food.

“RC felt safe and it was my new home,” Ronald said. “The staff is incredible and they consider our needs, emotionally and socially.”

Before RC, Ronald was timid. RC provided him a support network with individuals who were dedicated to his career and college success. He highlighted the importance of mentorship – specifically, his mentor and former Program Director Jordan Harrison, who pushed him to his full potential and taught him how to share his story, maintain a stage presence, and network.

“The person who I am today, I’ve always been – but hadn’t realized it until I was mentored by Harrison,” Ronald said.

There were plenty of times when Ronald questioned whether he should become the first in his family to go to college – or maybe just work a nine-to-five job. But then he remembered his postsecondary “why”: He wanted to go to college to be a role model for his younger brother, Gregory Moreno.

Ronald in turn took on a role-model mentality, and that was what got him through sleeping on the streets. When times got hard, he thought of his little brother, which keeps him going.

“I wanted to change this chain of poverty and drug abuse,” Ronald says, and attending college and going into a career was how he would break the chain.

But the college application process was “rigorous,” Ronald added. He found the essay-writing to be particularly difficult, but with support from RC’s College Apps Academy program, he got help on his essays and guidance on how to strengthen his college applications. Ronald ultimately applied to four University of California institutions, four California State University ones, and Stanford, Cornell, Brown, and Harvard Universities, just to name a few.

“I did enjoy it and learned a lot about myself, and was able to bring things about my past that I didn’t think I could write about,” Ronald said of the process. “It was tiring, took a lot of effort. However, I would do it again.”

Still, Ronald wondered how he was going to come up with the money he needed. Thankfully RC educates students about the Pell grant, FAFSA, and scholarships, and shows students that with a collective financial strategy, they can wind up paying less than the sticker price of college. In the College Apps Academy, participants are required to attend one program a week on a variety of topics, such as how to finance college, manage student loans, and network.

Ronald wants students who have faced similar circumstances to know that, “Although college is expensive and it’s a big number, if you put in the necessary amount of work and effort, you’ll get out what you put in.” RC showed Ronald that he had the means and resources to pay for college.

Ronald is confident in knowing that pursuing a college education and beginning a career will end his family’s cycle of homelessness, poverty, drug abuse, and violence. Ronald hopes to attend the University of California San Diego to study neuroscience. His end goal is to obtain a PhD and conduct research on neurodegenerative diseases.

When asked what advice he’d give other first-generation college students, Ronald said, “College isn’t limited by finance, but ourselves. Don’t let money get in the way! Don’t get in your own way!”