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Natalie Santander: My Breakthrough Experience

Natalie Santander - website-01My name is Natalie Santander and I live here on the Eastside with my little sister and my mom.   I am a 9th grader at Austin High School and, with Breakthrough’s help, I am going to be the first in my family to graduate from college.

I remember when I first learned about Breakthrough in 6th grade at Martin Middle School. Breakthrough gave a presentation at our school on how they could help students get on the right path to college. I always had a dream of going to college, becoming a professional and being able to help my mom who has done so much for me. But before Breakthrough, I didn’t think my dream would come true. My grandparents are from Austin and so is my mom and none of them had ever made it past high school. My mom has always worked so hard but we live paycheck to paycheck. Honestly, I thought college was only for people who could afford it. Not for me. But when I learned from Breakthrough how it was possible for students just like me to go to college, a spark was ignited inside me.

My first summer, I arrived on the University of Texas campus, and my life changed. I walked into an auditorium in the UTC building and found hundreds of students singing and dancing. And so were all the teachers! I found out right away that Breakthrough is fun but really hard work. Every day, after morning assembly, I would go to math, science, English and social studies classes. I read challenging books. I learned new things to prepare for my next school year. And the best part is that I was doing it with my new Breakthrough friends. All of us were there because we wanted to work hard so we could go to college.

Breakthrough is not just a summer program for me. My advisor Abby visits Champions 2017-65me at school every week to talk about my goals and provide help when I need it.  She pushed me to try sports in middle school and that really built up my confidence and helped me develop my social skills. With her support and the Breakthrough summer program, I felt ready to go to Austin High.  Abby was the one who told me I should apply for the Global Studies program. I didn’t even know about it, or how to go through the application process. I am so glad she did because being a part of this program at Austin High has been amazing. For example, I will be participating in a Model UN conference in the upcoming weeks, which I think will be a great experience and help me be a better public speaker! But it isn’t all easy. I am required to take all advanced classes and do hours of homework every night. Plus, I am one of the few students of color who has chosen this path at my high school.

I am grateful I can talk to Abby and my other advisor Ivanna about anything and everything. They are always there for me.  And, I can’t imagine going through this without them. They are my role models on how to be a first-generation Latina! Now, I have lots of new friends, am making good grades and I’m on the basketball and track team.

Before Breakthrough, I used to think that, no matter how smart I was or how hard I worked, that college was out of reach for kids from my neighborhood.  Now, I feel like I can do anything. When I think about my future, there are two things I don’t know yet – what college I will attend and what kind of amazing career I will have. But there are two things I do know. I KNOW my path will lead to a college degree and a better life for me and my family. And I KNOW Breakthrough will be there by my side every step of the way. Thank you Breakthrough for helping me pursue my dreams and be the very best me I can be.

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Last night, nearly 300 Austinites gathered at Breakthrough’s 12th Annual Champions Celebration. Our hearts are filled with gratitude for our event chairs, Susan and Charlie Avant, the outreach committee and everyone who attended, donated, and shared in our celebration of Breakthrough’s mission and our trailblazing students and families.

Together, we raised a record-setting $355,321 to support this year’s 1,425 Breakthrough students on their path to becoming first-generation college graduates! Our work simply would not be possible without Champions like YOU.

A special thanks to our wonderful speakers, Breakthrough high school student Natalie and Breakthrough student-parent duo Yasmin and Shelly, for sharing their inspirational journeys  of defying adversity to  pursue their dreams of a college education and a better life.   

Last night’s success was due in great part to three very special supporters who inspired record level giving. The Webber Family Foundation and the Topfer Family Foundation are generously matching  $100,000 in donations made in support of the Champions Celebration. And a very special thank you to the incredible leadership of Breakthrough “super fan” and event emcee, Mike Aviles,  who along with his wife Aileen, underwrote last night’s event.  

If you were unable to join us, were inspired by last night’s program to make an additional gift, or would like to make your pledge payment online, you can do so below.

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Proceeds from the 12th Annual Champions Celebration will ensure that Breakthrough is able to fulfill the 12-year promise we have made to the 1,425 pioneering students in our program. Together, we can help make college dreams come true!

To see more photos from the 12th Annual Champions Celebration, click here.


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With the help of the Austin Community, Breakthrough raised $18,322, in 24 hours for 1,250 first-gen college goers! A $7,500 match from Launch Marketing and Steven Ayers and Company, Investment Management brought our total up to $25,822, making this our most successful Amplify to date.

The donations we received will go directly to helping create equal educational opportunities for students from low-income communities.

With your support, in 2017 we will:

…Enroll an additional 280 middle school students this summer, all of whom aspire to be the first in their families to earn a college degree

…Offer rigorous academic programs after school, on Saturdays, and over the summer, closing the achievement gap for our students

…Provide college and financial aid counseling to our high school and college students, so they can reach their educational goals

Thank you to those who participated in this year’s Amplify Austin.  Together, we can continue to make college dreams come true!



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who has generously agreed to match the first $7,500 raised for Breakthrough during Amplify Austin!