Students Tell Their Stories

Daniel Reyes – 2015 Beat the Odds Benefit

My name is Daniel Reyes and I have been a Breakthrough student for six years, going on seven. I would like to thank the Smart family, MariBen Ramsey and Karen Kahan, and most of all, Breakthrough Austin for giving me the opportunity to share my story with all of you tonight.

I would like to begin by introducing the two people who gave me my origins, Rosario and Eufracio Reyes, my parents. They have been an inspiration to me my whole life. My parents come from very humble beginnings. They did not speak English when they came to this country, but they learned it. They did not have citizenship, but they obtained it. They did not go to college, but they found Breakthrough and now their children will. My parents have always pushed me to do my best. Although I didn’t always appreciate how they constantly nagged me about my grades, “Haz la tarea, Daniel!” I’m grateful for it now! Thank you, mom and dad, for showing me what it means to never give up. I love you very much.

I was 11 years old when I signed up for Breakthrough. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. I remember when I stepped off the bus for my first 6-week summer program. I walked up the steps of Littlefield Fountain at UT with a blazing sun above. The temperature read something like, “TEXAS HEAT.” I walked into an auditorium in Welch Hall and smiled as I heard and saw an entire community of students like me singing a cheer – do you all know Little Sally Walker? It’s a favorite at Breakthrough. I realized then that I had found my community, my support system, and the motivation to reach my goals. From my first day of the summer program in sixth grade, I was hooked. I spent the next three summers at UT getting better at math, science, social studies, and English. Every year I’d return to school with a little “umph” in my step, knowing I was ahead of everyone else.

It wasn’t until high school, though, that I really understood everything Breakthrough could do for me. Breakthrough helped me get into the Liberal Arts and Sciences Academy – one of the most rigorous high schools in the country. To be honest, I struggled. But, like every Breakthrough student at LASA, I leaned on two very special women, Andrea Guengerich and Caitlyn Clark, our Breakthrough advisors. They were always around, reminding us about our studies, our summer activities, and most of all our grades. I’ll never forget the dreaded question, “Daniel, do you have a moment?” which I knew meant they wanted to talk about my grades. But today, I am grateful to have had someone to watch out for my school performance, someone to help me when I was struggling, and most of all someone to inspire me to try harder.

By my junior year in high school, I had found my stride and everything was going well. With Breakthrough’s help, I was getting good grades and making plans for college. But then…the 2013 Onion Creek Floods happened. I’ll never forget sitting in the back of my dad’s truck on high ground as we watched the water rise up through our home, nearly 5 feet in total. I realized right then that we had nowhere to live. We scrambled to put a roof over our heads, and find food to eat, and I returned to school the next Monday in a daze. While my friends at school were worried about homework and pop quizzes, all I could think about was how my family could survive. My school and my wonderful Breakthrough advisors somehow showed up with gift cards for food and some clothes to add to the few we were able to grab when we fled the disaster. I remember Andrea and my family meeting at the Breakthrough office and we all agreed that Breakthrough would step up more, if that’s even possible, to help me continue my junior year and start my college application process.

I will be honest with you all. There were times when it all felt like too much, and I wanted to give up. School felt too hard. How could I stay focused on college, when my life and my family were turned upside down? Thank you, Breakthrough, for helping me stay focused and working hard, even when I was crammed with my family all in one room in my aunt’s house. I am proud to tell you now that I didn’t give up, that I graduated LASA and just this August started at my dream college, St. Mary’s University in San Antonio.

To tell you the truth, my first semester in college has been the best time in my life. So far, I have pulled off all A’s. I’ve started a club called St. Mary’s College Democrats, an organization that is already 40 strong with great plans to make a difference for our community. I am also surrounded by 6 other amazing Breakthrough students at St. Mary’s, including 3 upperclasswomen who serve as mentors for us freshmen, and I get calls, texts and visits from my Breakthrough college advisor, Daniel Jackson. I am proud to be the first in my family to go to college, and even prouder to know I won’t be the last. My younger brother, Jesus, who is in high school now, is also a Breakthrough student and college-bound.

Just this weekend, another flood hit my family’s home. We were better prepared this time but it is still hard. I am so glad that Breakthrough is there to continue to support my brother and me. These floods aren’t holding us back but are now merely challenges that we can overcome. Not every Breakthrough student endures such acts of nature but, believe me, every single one of us overcomes our own obstacles on our path to college graduation

I can’t wait to graduate from St. Mary’s and head on to law school. Eventually, I want to represent the Lone Star State in Congress. I want to learn everything I can through college and beyond so I can help others in communities, like Onion Creek, across our great state. Thank you for letting me share my story tonight. I appreciate the opportunity to show you what a difference that Breakthrough is making to me and my fellow students. By being here tonight, listening to my story and supporting Breakthrough, you are making a difference … to ALL of us. Thank you.

Alicia Champions

Alicia (right) with her sisters and nieces, and Breakthrough Executive Director Michael Griffith

Alicia’s Story– Champions Celebration 2015

Ten years ago, I didn’t even believe I’d make it to college, much less be up here receiving this award. It was really rough growing up, just trying to make ends meet. I am the youngest of four sisters, so I relied a lot on my sisters. Both of my parents were unstable and my sisters basically raised me, even though they were teenagers themselves and single parents.

That’s why Breakthrough has been my salvation. I was first introduced to the program in sixth grade. In my neighborhood, education never comes first. A commitment to your future often feels like an indulgence you can’t afford when you’re worried about money and your family. So, I was hesitant to learn more about Breakthrough. I was convinced that college just wasn’t for me. Fortunately, my teacher, Ms. King, took notice of me and pushed me to not only challenge myself in school but to apply to this program.

I remember the day I entered the Breakthrough program on the University of Texas campus, for the first time. I was spellbound by the energy that radiated from the community. Even though it was challenging and we had homework every night, Breakthrough made the experience fun. It felt like the summer camp my family could never afford.

Breakthrough quickly became my second home. For the first time in my life, there was always somebody asking me about my first day of school or if I’ve done my homework. Sure, at times it was a little irritating, the constant calling and checking-in. However, Breakthrough has always cared about and believed in my future. They encouraged me to set higher expectations for myself and my education, and they were willing to do whatever it takes to help me achieve my dreams. In middle school, my grades plummeted because I was unable to see the board to keep up in class. Breakthrough figured this out and helped me get glasses. During high school, they found a way to waive all my college application fees. If they hadn’t, my dreams of college might have ended there. I remember when my college recommendations were due and I realized that I didn’t have any stamps, let alone the money or a car to go buy them. I called Breakthrough and my advisor Andrea rushed stamps over to my house in the middle of a rain storm.

My senior year, Breakthrough partnered me with a wonderful volunteer named Susan to be my college application coach. She became much more that – she became my friend (and she’s here tonight!) Susan always gave me her full attention by helping me with all my college and scholarship applications. She didn’t mind meeting at the library close to my house, never complained that I asked for too much of her time or that I always had to bring my young niece with me to our meetings. We didn’t have heating or AC growing up. Over the winter, Susan heard my niece complaining that she didn’t want to go home because it was so cold. The next time we met, Susan gave me a space heater. Somehow, like the rest of the Breakthrough staff, she made it okay to accept her generosity without feeling embarrassed.

It wasn’t until I got my first college acceptance letter that I began to believe that I might actually be good enough for college – that I DESERVED to go to college.

Unfortunately, getting admitted was just half the battle. I worked two jobs to pay my way. Academically, I was ready. Breakthrough helped me get into the Liberal Arts and Sciences Academy, one of the best high schools in the country. What I wasn’t prepared for was the social isolation of going to college, being away from family and the lingering insecurities that I was good enough to be there. I couldn’t talk to my family…..I didn’t want to worry them. My family always tried to support my dreams, but sometimes they just didn’t understand. With Breakthrough, I could be honest. They helped me navigate the college system, to connect me with scholarships and financial aid, keep up with my grades, and make sense of my schedule so that I could graduate as soon as possible.

With Breakthrough’s support, last spring I was the first in my family to walk across the stage to accept my college degree. I graduated from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi with a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice, a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and a minor in Psychology.  I always knew that I wanted to work with young people, but Breakthrough has ignited a passion for education within me. I plan to go back to school to earn my Master’s degree in education or counseling.

While in college, I was selected to be a summer teacher for Breakthrough’s middle school summer program, and this year I am proudly serving as a full-time AmeriCorps member, advising students of my own, a few of them who are here today. The opportunity to connect with and inspire the next generation lifts my heart a little higher each day. I want to help kids like me who just need someone to show them that it’s okay to want to be successful and that Breakthrough will be there to support their dreams.

I am often asked why I work for Breakthrough or why Breakthrough is important to me. It’s simple. I believe in this program. I’m an example of how this program works. No matter how tough it was at home, or how many times we moved, Breakthrough was always my constant – they were there for the long haul. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Breakthrough has transformed my life. I am a professional educator with a long career ahead of me and a passion for helping others. Now my nieces Sierra, and Faithly, who is here today are in Breakthrough and have the same boundless opportunity ahead of them.

I can tell you that our future will be without worry of having heat in the winter, glasses in the classroom, or stamps for a college recommendation.

Faithly and Sierra, I’m so proud of you. There is no limit to what we can do now.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart to each of you for supporting this program- a program that has changed my life and the lives of my family forever.



15759762082_9e562295bf_kThelma’s Story-Beat the Odds Benefit 2014

Good Evening. My name is Thelma. I could not be more honored to have the chance to speak to you all today – and grateful to see such an incredible community of people coming together to support Breakthrough. Thank you so much.

I first moved to Austin from Mexico with my parents and my younger sister when I was in first grade. The four of us and eventually my brother too, shared one room of my aunt’s house for three years, until we could finally afford our own place nearby. Up until that point, I’d always been a really lively, outgoing child, but the adjustment to school in Austin was much more difficult than I expected. I had always been a good student, eager to learn, but my English was choppy at first and because of the differences in school systems, I repeated a grade. I had a really hard time fitting in and started to doubt that I could be successful. That feeling just intensified and lasted all throughout elementary school. I went from being lively and not caring about others opinions to becoming self-conscious and full of self-doubt.

It was in my 6th grade year at Kealing Middle School when I first heard about Breakthrough. My parents have always wanted the best for me and they provide an incredible support system, but they themselves didn’t attend college or graduate from high school and had no idea how we could make our dream of me graduating from a 4 year university a reality. I clearly remember the enthusiasm that came over me when I realized what Breakthrough could mean for me – the doors that it could open to my future.

At Breakthrough, I found that community of students like me – students who were eager to learn, who shared my dream of going to college – and most importantly, I found a safe place where I could be myself. I remember my first summer at Breakthrough on the University of Texas campus, there was one boy, Issa, who would get up and dance and act crazy during our morning cheers, something I soon learned was completely acceptable and highly encouraged. All the activities, including performing Shakespeare, really pushed me outside of my comfort zone, along with the small academic classes that left no room to hide in the shadows. Breakthrough forced me, in a good way, to step up and find my voice.

Little by little that new found confidence carried into the rest of my life and into high school at the Liberal Arts and Science Academy. For those who don’t know, LASA is among the most rigorous high schools in the country, and I struggled with 4 or more hours of homework every night while working a part-time job to help support my family. As the oldest child, I felt a lot of pressure to succeed and make my parents proud, but I started to doubt again that I could achieve my dreams. I watched my older cousins and my friends choose a different path, and I started to wonder if I could really make it to college. If they couldn’t do it, how in the world could I?

Throughout all of this Breakthrough never gave up on me. My Breakthrough advisor Andrea, who I might add is an amazing person, was with me every step of the way. I remember one time during my junior year, talking to Andrea about how I felt selfish for even considering a four-year college when my parents had already sacrificed so much. Andrea took on that burden. She reminded me that college was not just my dream – it was my family’s dream too. Her positivity, knowledge and care helped to keep my dream alive. She spent countless hours advising me on the steps needed to take the SAT, apply to college and submit dozens of scholarships, in addition to the academic support that’s helped me to be a more successful student. And even though I knew she was working with lots of other students, when I talk to Andrea, she makes me feel like I am the only one. She invested so much in me that I had no option but to succeed.

Suffice it to say, if not for Breakthrough, I don’t know if I would be standing here today as a sophomore at St. Edward’s University, studying International Business. But Breakthrough continues to have a positive effect on me. This past summer, I had the opportunity to work as a physics teacher for Breakthrough’s Middle School Summer Program at UT. Here I was in charge of the future of an energetic group of 8th graders with their own college dreams, and I started to wonder if I could have the same impact on them that the program had on me almost 8 years ago. I’ll never forget the last day of the program, when one of the students who was just like my 8th grade self, stood up in front of the entire group during our closing ceremony to say with tears in her eyes, “Miss Thelma I just want to say that you are the best teacher, and I want to be just like you when I grow up.”

My experience teaching is what helped me to truly come out of my shell. I may not be a complete extrovert or the most outgoing, but there is definitely a significant change between the shy, withdrawn little 7th grader that I used to be and who I have become, and I couldn’t be happier.

Breakthrough has changed my life, my family’s life forever. My brother and sister are now in the program too. For us, Breakthrough is more than a program – it’s family, a genuine community, and I can’t imagine my life without it. Mom, Dad, thank you so much for everything you’ve sacrificed so that we could have a better life. Thank you to everyone at Breakthrough for helping provide a path to achieve our dreams for a college education. And, thank you to each of you for your support to make this incredible experience possible.



13779622854_b8e829b2aa_b (1)Arianna’s Story – Champions Celebration 2014

 Good evening. My name is Arianna and I am honored to be here tonight. My story begins when I was only 3 years old. My mom moved my sister and me away from an unsupportive family in Massachusetts to live in Austin. We had no contacts, no money, and no place to live. My mom was so strong!  After moving between shelters and housing projects, she built a house for us in East Austin with the help of Habitat for Humanity. Our home was christened with songs, cheers and love by future neighbors and new friends.

 When it came time for the finishing touches, she asked what color we wanted the house to be. “Silver and Gold!” we shouted. She didn’t really go for that, so she had the house painted our second choice of colors, pink and purple. My mom would take us to the nearby Carver Library where we’d get to choose several books to take home and read. When we were done, we’d take turns sharing book reports, which she always recorded on our old camcorder. Somewhere in that pink and purple house are old videos of me and my sister in afro puffs doing our library presentations.

 And then life happened. Just after my acceptance into Breakthrough in 6th grade, my mother was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The doctors tried many combinations of medications, but my marvel of a mom was now incapacitated. My sister and I, barely teenagers, had to familiarize ourselves with public transportation and the many recipes that could be made using Ramen noodles. Many kids might think we were living the dream – no authority, no rules – but it definitely wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I knew something was wrong and felt sad and helpless to do anything about it. Without my mother helping to check my homework as she always had, I struggled to even advance from 7th to 8th grade.

 Luckily, my Breakthrough advisor, Marisol, saw the drastic change in me and stepped in to help. She visited me every other week at Kealing Middle School and did her best to make sure I went to after-school tutoring (believe me, I didn’t want to) and turn in my homework assignments on time (I didn’t want to do that, either). She never gave up on me. I soon become more involved in Breakthrough. I’d come for after school tutoring, attend every Saturday program, or just stop in to say “Hi” when my bus happened to pass by the office. The staff really took the time to get to know me and my interests and talents. While our conversations might have started off about my low grade in English, they soon became about all that was happening in my life. In the Breakthrough staff, I found a second family with whom I was able to discuss my developing understanding of the world, from my views on public education to interests that I should pursue as a young adult.

 Having that level of communication with Marisol and the rest of the Breakthrough staff was certainly a salvation later in my high school years. One day in 10th grade, with the bills eclipsing the amount my mom received in disability checks, the lights and water were turned off.  My sister and I went to live with our dad while our mom stayed in a shelter for a number of months. My new living situation isolated me from my closest friends at school, but what really got to me was the fact that I would only see my mom for a few hours each Friday. I fell into a deep depression that, at times, rivaled my mother’s. It was at that time that Breakthrough provided me the one spark that kept me going. Knowing what I loved to do, they encouraged me to apply for a semester of art classes at the Arthouse at Jones Center.  My participation in these classes with great artists was a turning point. I had found my passion for art and fashion design. It wasn’t long before I was splitting my free time between Breakthrough tutoring, my art classes, and local fashion shows. Because of my relationship with Breakthrough during the years that my mother was the most ill, I was able to center my identity not on my life’s adversity, but on my talents and interests.

 However, all my creativity in the world didn’t overcome the low grades I had accumulated in 10th and 11th grade. In fact, I wasn’t initially granted admission to any Texas colleges. With only a 2.6 Grade Point Average, none of the admissions offices even peeked at the essays I had so thoughtfully crafted. When the Breakthrough staff heard about this, they immediately dialed up one of the universities I applied to and had the head of admissions read my essay. She said it was the best she’d read all year. I was admitted to the University of North Texas on the spot!

 Tonight, I stand here before you as a proud graduate of the University of North Texas with a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts Degree in Fashion Design and minors in Sociology and Mexican American Studies. I have long shaken the shadow of depression from my earlier years and am filled with excitement about my bright future. I am proud to say that my college degree is allowing me to pursue my dreams. I am an independent fashion stylist and proud owner of my own business, called Project 430, where I design and manufacture handbags – be sure to check my website out at! I am even more proud to report that my mother is doing extremely well as she has returned to being her energetic, fun-loving self. I am so grateful to Breakthrough that I made the 200 mile journey from my home in Denton to share with you my story tonight. That gratitude also caused me to dedicate two of my summers in college to teaching younger Breakthrough students during the summer program. I can’t wait to see them at their college graduation in the coming years.

 As I reflect on my past, I am thankful for everything my families – both my mom and Breakthrough – have given me on my path to college and beyond. I couldn’t have done it without them. From the bottom of my heart – thank you.




Esteban’s Story – Breakthrough at the Belmont Event 2013

Hello my name is Esteban. I am a senior at Austin High School and have been a Breakthrough student for the last 6 years. Thank you for allowing me to tell my story. One of my first memories is from my childhood in Fort Worth. I was probably six or seven, and my mom and I were driving by the beautiful college campus of Texas Christian University. Though she couldn’t even read the welcome sign that adorned the entrance, she said to me, “Un día mijo estará aqui.” One day, my son, you will be here.

Years later, as a 6th grader at Zavala Elementary in Austin, I remember my teacher stopping our math lesson to introduce two people from something called Breakthrough. A guy named Brian asked us all if we wanted to go to college, and if we did, Breakthrough could help.

My mom’s words rang in my ears as I raised my hand for an application. I remember taking it home and translating it for my mom and dad. We read all about how I would spend six weeks at UT every summer and would get an advisor to help me visit universities, fill out applications, and provide tutoring or whatever else I needed to get into college. I remember my mom saying, “This is it! This is how you will get the help you need. Don’t let this opportunity go by.”

My first summer at Breakthrough was before 7th grade. I got off the bus and took my first steps on the UT campus. I walked into an auditorium in Calhoun where there were hundreds of students doing all these cheers and songs and acting crazy.  To be honest, it was overwhelming and a little intimidating. At first I didn’t want to join in.  When my name was called and it was my turn to be loud and cheer, I would mumble a quiet, “Good morning Breakthrough.”

Even the math, English, social studies, and science classes felt different.  The teachers were awesome! They were young, and many of them spoke Spanish and shared my background. As I learned to loosen up, I became more comfortable with the morning cheers. It wasn’t long before I would eagerly shout out some of the silliest, craziest cheers, like “Baby shark, baby shark!”  By the second and third summer I felt I had found another family – one that was filled with people who also dreamt of being the first in their family to graduate from college. I also felt like I had found my voice…that I had the courage to be different. Because of Breakthrough, I am brave.

Though my confidence grew through middle and high school, I still lacked the knowledge about how to succeed in high school and get into college. My family continued to love and support me. I would come home with a grade from my physics test. My parents would say, “Bien hecho, mijo.” Great job. While I valued this, I also needed to hear, “Are you prepared for the Physics AP test in May? Do you want to pursue a career in physics? (I do not!) What other majors are you interested in? Have you considered taking dual classes at ACC so that you can earn college credit?” These are questions that my family would’ve never known to ask, but I remember being asked all these questions, and many more, by my Breakthrough advisor Natalie.

The most crucial time was during my sophomore and junior years. I started hearing about all these great universities. I went on college visits to UT, Southwestern, St. Ed’s, Texas A&M. I learned how important the ACT and SAT tests are and attended the prep sessions last spring so I could get the best score. I worked hard this last summer to complete as many college applications as possible and will soon press submit to six great schools, with my ultimate goal of graduating from Texas A&M with a degree in psychology. I’ve received all of this help while still leaning on Breakthrough for tutoring support and advice about juggling after school and summer commitments like volunteering, work, classes at ACC and dancing with Roy Lozano’s professional Ballet Folklórico company.

I know I have a bright future ahead of me in college and beyond. “Gracias mamá, por motivarme a soñar en grande, y creer que puedo atender y graduarme de la universidad.”  Thank you, mom, for motivating me to dream big – to believe that I can graduate from college.

And, thank you to Breakthrough for teaching me how to have the confidence and the knowledge to make my dreams come true. Gracias.



BijouBijou’s Story – Breakthrough at the Belmont Event 2013

Hello, my name is Bijou and I have been a Breakthrough student for three years. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you this evening.

I was born in the South Kivu of the Democratic Republic of Congo. My family and I were forced to constantly move due to political conflicts. The first time I had to move was when I was only four years old. The threat of war surrounded my family. Gunshots were a regular sound. Though my family did their best to shelter me from the horrors, I knew something wasn’t right. I would overhear my brothers, sisters, and parents talking about people getting hurt and killed. We had to leave, and the best solution was to escape our country altogether.  I remember crossing the border to Burundi, scared as we passed by the heavily-armed guards. We lived in the refugee camp while the war raged back home, hoping that there would be something to return to. Upon realizing that our hope did not come true, we ended up trying to settle in Rwanda. Then homeless and in refugee status, we were fortunate enough to be granted immigration status to the United States.

Though we didn’t know a single person in Austin, my entire family made the move when I was only 8 years old. To be honest, we struggled for a while. While I was at school trying to mimic the English language, my parents were having the same problems at work. But with time we were able to adjust to the new culture.  By the time I left elementary school I felt happy to be in such a safe community and I had the goal of finding a good job after high school to earn money for my family.  When my family encouraged me to join Breakthrough, I thought I wouldn’t like it. I thought it would be just like every other school I had been in. I was skeptical of the idea that learning would ever be exciting.  Over time I changed my mind. Yes, sometimes it feels like my life revolves around Breakthrough, but the truth is, instead of wasting my summer as a couch potato , I have spent the last three summers working hard, making myself smarter, and understanding that college is my future.

Breakthrough has given me the feeling of belonging – the feeling that it’s ok to trust others outside of my own family. I now feel something wonderful…confidence. This past year, with Breakthrough’s help, I received a scholarship to attend St. Stephen’s Episcopal School. My summers learning with Breakthrough have prepared me academically for this tough high school. On top of all that, Breakthrough has helped me find my voice. I feel like I have my own opinion, my own point of view, and I am confident that I can achieve my goals. About a month ago two of my new friends came rushing to the gym to deliver the good news that I had been elected freshman class president. I could hardly believe it. I wasn’t expecting to win; I just wanted the opportunity to make a difference in my community. Back where I come from in the Democratic Republic of Congo, that’s really hard to do.  I know that in the future, I will attend a great college, find a career that I am passionate about, and give back to people who need help. My life has changed from worry about what will happen in the future to excitement about the great things I can accomplish.

Thank you, Breakthrough, for helping me realize that I have the potential to follow my interests, work hard, and achieve whatever is out there – I know there is no limit.



DanaeDanae’s Story

I’m a 12th grader at Austin High School. I am from Monterrey, Mexico, and I moved here, to Austin, when I was four years old.

I remember my older brother, Tony, being really involved in his application to this thing called Breakthrough Austin.  I remember that first day when he came home from the Summer Program and was so excited to have two hours of homework. I was like “Really, Tony? Happy about two hours of homework?” I became much more interested after I saw how it changed him. I wanted that drive and motivation that I saw him getting. And so I applied the following winter.

The first day I came to Breakthrough, I was shy. I felt uncomfortable coming out of my bubble and out of my comfort zone.  During my first Summer Program, I remember Attendance, where we all got together to do cheers…there was so much energy and enthusiasm and dancing. The first time Brian called on me to do my cheer I was so nervous “Danae!” he said.  “Good morning, Breakthrough,” I said quietly, looking down.  I remember that uneasy feeling of being shy and awkward and scared to speak in front of people.

In elementary and middle school, I used to get so nervous presenting projects or speaking in front of my class. It was such a big thing for me…my voice would shake, and I would get so nervous. I was worried I would mess up my English, and then start thinking in Spanish and my head would become a big blur.

And now, through many Breakthrough activities, it’s just different. I feel a lot better about myself.  For example, during my 8th grade summer we went to Winedale, Texas to act out a Shakespeare play, Romeo and Juliet. I was Juliet, one of the biggest roles, and I did it! The experienced actors guided me through the play on how to act and how to perform.  One person told me, “You have to be this person. Feel like you are this person. Just do it! It should naturally come out of you if you put yourself in the character’s situation” which is what I did when it became time to perform.  Through my Shakespeare and acting experience, I learned how to control my nerves up on stage which helped later on during my orchestra performances and so many other occasions.

Also, just being in Breakthrough has helped me become more social. Spending a lot of time with new people, who are now friends, and going on fun field trips like the Ropes Course and Swim Day have helped me feel comfortable outside of my comfort zone.

I’m involved in band and orchestra. I play violin. I’m a section leader for the color guard, and a student leader in PALS (Peer Assistance Leadership Group). I feel much more natural performing in front of people and being able to communicate in a confident way.

Right now, I am diligently working on my college applications to Texas AM University, University of Texas Austin, University of North Texas,  Southwestern University,  Middlebury College, and Texas State. During the two-week summer College Olympics at the Breakthrough office, I completed my resume, my Apply Texas account, and the Common Application for college. I plan to double major in zoology and political science.  I’m also busy with AP English IV, AP Calculus, AP French V, and I usually go to the Breakthrough office a couple of times a week to work on college applications and study for the ACT. With my hard work and confident voice, I am hopeful I will be accepted to my top choice — Texas A&M College Station.

If it wasn’t  for Breakthrough, I wouldn’t be here talking to you today, I don’t mean because I wouldn’t be in the program, but because I wouldn’t be a good public speaker. I have overcome the sweaty hands and now feel excited and honored to be here sharing my story with you all. I am hopeful that sharing my experience will encourage you to support the hundreds of students who are in the same position as me. We are breaking through!



chris martinezChris’ Story – Champions Event 2013

My name is Christopher. I am a 10th grader at Austin High School. I have been a Breakthrough student for the past four years, ever since I was a 6th grader at Zavala elementary. I am glad to be here to talk to you.

When I was young, all I ever wanted to do was play sports. I started when I was 3 playing baseball. By the time I was 6 years old, I also played basketball and football.  I wanted to be a sports star and a professional athlete. Even when I started middle school, I still only thought about going to the NFL and making lots of money for me and for my mom.  The thing about my mom is, she always told me that I would go to college one day but, at the time, I didn’t want to think about it. Probably because I didn’t want to do all that work and school was always kind of hard.  I knew I wasn’t the best in my class. There was always someone who could do math faster or read longer words, but I never gave up. I still remember the hours doing homework in my room with my mom’s help. One time I even had a spelling test and couldn’t spell the word “pumpkin.” I ended up writing it over and over again until I finally got it right on my quiz. Even though I complained and struggled, I really had no choice because my mom didn’t let me stop. Thanks mom.

The biggest obstacle I faced was learning how to be successful even though I didn’t have all the support that some students have. My mom has always been my rock, always pushing me and telling me, sometimes even nagging me, to do my best in school so I could go to college. But to be honest, my dad wasn’t there.  Like all little kids, I wanted to be better and do something with my life, but didn’t have the dad figure to look up to.  I would see my friends or cousins interacting with their dads and it would sometimes make me feel bad, like I was a disappointment. Being in sports made me forget about all that and made me feel like I belonged. I dreamed of being on the field all day long, of being in a place where, at least in my little kid mind, I was really good at something. As I got older I started to figure out something that now seems really obvious. No matter how good I thought I was, I won’t be able to play football forever. Those words my mom used to say to me about how I need to do my best in school and go to college started to sink in and I realized she was probably right. In fact, I remember the exact moment in Mr. Estrada’s 6th grade class in Zavala when two Breakthrough advisors, Jennifer and Ana, came to talk to the class about this program that can help me go to college. I thought to myself, “This is what my mom is talking about. This will make her proud.”  I took an application home and I swear the first words that came out of her mouth when she saw it were, “This is it! This is your chance!”

The last 4 years being in Breakthrough have been crazy, yet still amazing. From the first day I stepped into an auditorium at UT for the summer program, I felt shocked to see all the kids and teachers jumping around cheering. The only ones who weren’t acting crazy were the other new kids. We looked at each other like, “Uh, what did we get ourselves into?” By the end of the 6 weeks of learning, building friendships, and connecting with the Breakthrough family, I was no longer one of the quiet ones. I finished the summer with new best friends and a feeling of confidence that I could meet new people and learn new things. When I started high school at Austin High (Go Maroons!), I thought I was ready but I wasn’t. The classes were really challenging and the school was overwhelming – I was one of 700 freshmen!  I remember my Breakthrough advisor, Natalie, calling me up the first week of school to check to make sure I had everything I needed and we set a schedule for when she’d come see me at school and talk during the Saturday programs. At first I thought I didn’t need it and she was just nagging me, like my mom. But she really cares about how I do and I started listening to her advice and going to tutoring after school. Thanks, Natalie.

Right now, I’m proud to say that I have the confidence to be my own person and that I care a lot more about school.  I’ve learned to be more organized, to talk to teachers about my work, and to be more responsible by doing my homework and assignments.  At Austin High, I’m passing all of my classes and, most importantly, I feel that I’m no longer the one who is behind in school.  I even plan to apply for a leadership position at (continued on back)      Austin High called Link Crew, so that I can mentor the new freshman and help them learn from my experience. I’m also proud to say that my dad still wants to be in my life and I now get to see him regularly. He gave me this amazing advice, “prepare for the worst but hope for the best.” I feel like for my whole life, I just wanted to be a kid. But now I am starting to become an adult and I need to start embracing it. In just a couple years I will graduate Austin High and head off to college.

I want to stay close to home because my family is everything, so I plan on attending a great school like Texas State or the University of Texas. I know that I won’t be able to keep playing sports in college but now I’ve started to find a new passion: writing music. Just last year at one of the Breakthrough 9th Grade Saturdays, I heard some amazing slam poets perform their writing and I was asked to write my first poem. From that day on, I was hooked and now I write regularly, mostly in the form of song lyrics. I’m writing about myself and connecting it to other people and how other people are – how real life is. I realize that I care a lot about connecting to other people in real ways. Perhaps I’ll be a counselor and give back by listening to people and help them with their problems.

Breakthrough has helped me realize that there are many things I can do with my life, that I can go to college and become the man I was meant to be. Thank you for listening to my life story and thank you to Breakthrough for making my dreams come true. Nothing is impossible.