Encouraged to Achieve: Rio Grande Valley Family Hope Center Becomes Second Home for Teen

By Lauren Hollon Sturdy
Buckner International

Graciela Vazquez will be the first member of her family to attend college. She’s excited by the prospect of living on her own and starting a new chapter of her life.Talking to her, though, you get the impression she’s being tugged in several directions. She doesn’t feel supported or understood by her family in many ways, yet her endgame in going to college is to make life better for them.

“My mom, it makes me kind of sad, because she will tell me, ‘Just get married!’” Vazquez said. “I had a boyfriend a while back, we dated for a few months, and she thought I was already going to get married to him. She wants us all to get married and just be like that – be the housewife. And I don’t want to be that.”

She’s at the Peñitas Family Hope Center every day volunteering and spending time with the staff. She says they have all encouraged and inspired her – especially Becci Ruiz, one of the caseworkers.

[caption id="attachment_6525" align="alignright" width="250"] Gracie poses with Gabriel Flores, Hope Center community coordinator, at her high school graduation.[/caption]

“Here, I see that Becci has her master’s,” Vazquez says. “Becci is single, she has everything good, and I want to be that way. I ask all the staff about college and the dorms and they tell me their exciting stuff. They make me want to experience that.”

Vazquez has seven siblings and step-siblings and one infant niece living at home. She’s the only child who was born in Mexico; all the others have their U.S. citizenship, and you can tell when Vazquez talks about it she feels cheated. She says her siblings aren’t doing anything with their lives. She thinks they take their opportunities for granted, while she spends every single day worrying about whether amending her citizenship is possible.

She says she’s ready to start school and get out from under her parents’ roof so she can finally focus on her studies. At home, she has trouble sleeping because her older brother is up all hours of the night making noise. She said her mom sometimes blames her for things her sister does and her sister leaves her infant in Vazquez’ care when she wants to go out and do other things.

“[They’re] putting the responsibilities on me that are not even mine,” she says. “I want to do my stuff, but I can’t, so I’m happy because I’ll get to live in the dorms. They’ll have all the resources that I need. There’s Wi-Fi, the library’s going to be there and if I need help I can just walk across campus. I don’t have to depend on my parents and say, ‘Can you take me?’”

She plans to study nursing and has big dreams for after she graduates. She sees herself “single, with a brand-new car, working and making money and giving it to [her] brother and sister, nephew and mom.”

“I feel like donating,” she says. “I want to be rich. I want to build myself up so I can give back to everybody who’s helped me; that’s what I want to do. Even to my family members in Dallas – I want to give them money. I want to bless them. And share that through God, everything that happened is because of Him.”

Vazquez starts classes at the University of Texas-Pan American Aug. 26. She received a $3,000 scholarship per semester through Buckner and is currently selling baked goods to raise funds to buy a laptop.

“Right now, I’m just living through faith,” she says. Through faith I’m hoping everything will turn out good.”

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