Like many of her neighbors, Oralia works hard to give her children a good life and a solid education in her adopted neighborhood of Chirilagua. Born in Belize, she later moved to Guatemala to live with her father and grandmother. “Over there,” says Oralia, “people are poor, need food, and I would see kids who were abandoned. I didn’t want that life for my family.” So, in 2003, Oralia decided to come to the United States to give her future family a better life. Education was not free in Guatemala; only people with money could afford to go to school, and Oralia was determined to give her children a good education.
Hard work has always been a staple in Oralia’s life, but she says, “here, I have to work a lot in order to afford things. Since I’m an immigrant, it’s harder for me to get a good job.” Yet she now works doing what she loves most: cooking. A friend who owns a food truck asked her to join her team, helping Oralia fulfill her dream. “I am much happier here,” Oralia says. “I like how it’s safer and my family and I feel more secure. I am glad that I can give my children a good education, something they probably would not have had in Guatemala.”
Community Lodgings, Inc.’s out-of-school time programs have also helped Oralia’s children succeed in school. Oralia’s daughter, Belen, started coming to Community Lodgings’ academic program 4 years ago. “They help my daughter a lot,” says Oralia. Last year, in 6th grade, Belen really began to understand how important her grades are for getting into college. So this year, Belen’s C grades have turned into As and Bs. And her hard work paid off: she was one of only eight students to be nominated by her school counselors to attend George Mason University’s Academy Prep Classes next year. GMU Prep has a 360-degree program that includes a variety of academic mentoring programs and a seminar to involve the whole family.
With long brown hair and a contagious smile, Belen bursts with enthusiasm for life and her future in college. “My Mom reminds me often that education is a privilege. In Guatemala, she had to pay for an education, and she couldn’t afford it. That’s why we’re here,” says the bright-eyed 7th grader. “And I can’t wait to go to college.”
Belen also takes pride in giving back to her peers and the larger community. She is a Student Ambassador who gives tours to 5th graders and their families to help students adjust to middle school. “I almost got lost in the building my first day,” she says. “I don’t want other kids to have the same experience. Adjusting to Middle School isn’t easy.” But it doesn’t stop there. Besides lifeguarding and helping younger kids whenever she can, Belen wants to be a school counselor after college. Oralia and the CLI staff couldn’t be prouder.