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How a plastic bag changed the life of a South Texas teen

It’s amazing how something like a plastic shopping bag can have such an impact on someone’s life. When Marilin Garcia, now 18, was in kindergarten, her mother couldn’t afford to buy a backpack for school so she used a shopping bag. That seemingly insignificant plastic bag was the catalyst for changing Marilin’s life.

Her fellow classmates teased her about her make-shift backpack. Her mother was a single parent to Marilin and her two older siblings. They had recently moved from Mexico to Peñitas, Texas, just across the border and were scraping by.

It wasn’t just her lack-of-backpack that caught the attention of her classmates. She struggled with learning English for the first few years.

“I’ve been through a lot,” Marilin said. “We all go through a lot of hard stuff—but I know that when we came over here, when my mom came over here, we had a lot of trouble finding somewhere to live.”

Where some might wither under the constant teasing, Marilin used it as an opportunity to prove everyone wrong. She saw her mom working hard every day at a clothing warehouse, trying to provide for Marilin and her siblings.

“My mom is really hardworking,” Marilin said. “She was working for me to become somebody, so why would I listen to somebody telling me not to overcome the teasing? I tried really hard; I was a top reader in my class. My grades were really good—they were all As. I tried very hard to overcome what they were telling me. My mom has been my motivation. She’s worked really hard for me, so I’m trying to do the same for her.”

Several years ago, Marilin was having trouble finding scholarships for college. The school counselor recommended she go to the Buckner Family Hope Center for help.

Marilin, her mom and the counselor went to meet with Gabriel Flores, family coach at the Hope Center. He helped explain the college application process to Marilin and her mom, and some options for scholarships. At the end, he casually asked Marilin for an essay about her life and why she works so hard. Marilin wrote it and didn’t think anything of it.

Several weeks later, she received a surprise phone call from Gabriel – she had been awarded a Buckner scholarship to pay for tuition.

“As I got to know Marilin’s story, I thought of the verse in 2nd Timothy: ‘For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline (1:7),’” Gabriel said. “Marilin has been through so many tragedies like her father leaving them, moving to a different country, learning a different language and other instances worthy of discouragement. But to see her at the top of her class simply tells me she has an unbreakable and determined spirit! We could not think of a more deserving student for this scholarship.” 

Marilin graduated third in her high school class and is enrolled to attend the University of Texas at the Rio Grande Valley in the fall. She’s going to study nursing but her dream is to one day become a doctor and help people with low income get the medical care they need.

“I’m really grateful that Buckner is here for me. They’ve been really nice to me and every time I need something and I ask, they help me. I’ve been coming to their events to help out. So, we’re working together. Hopefully we get more involved with each other.”

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