By Ivan Porto
“Open the email”
“I can’t–I’m scared. What if I didn’t get in?”
“Well, If you don’t open the email, we’ll never know. Just open the email and we’ll find out!”
A calm Friday morning suddenly became nerve-wracking. I had been working with a high school student named Nadia on her college applications, and little did we know that her life was about to change in an instant. An Eastern European immigrant who has spent the past five years changing schools while traveling between New York City and her native country, Nadia was about to find out that her dream school had accepted her. Her essay, letters of recommendation, and the countless hours spent on homework had paid off. She was one step closer to achieving her dream and I was fortunate to share this moment with her.
When I decided to apply to AVODAH, I was excited by the opportunity to do social justice work while engaging in Jewish learning. Having been out of college for a couple of years, one of the things I missed the most was connecting with a Jewish community on a regular basis. I was particularly enthused about being in a pluralistic Jewish setting where we could learn about the connections between Jewish ethics and dealing with social inequalities. Living in such a diverse and complex city as New York City, I welcomed the opportunity to think about, struggle, and work against social issues like homelessness, poverty, and lack of access to education.
My particular interest in the field of education stems from the role it has played in my life. Having moved to the United States from Mexico when I was nine, my parents instilled in me the importance of education from an early age. They insisted that this was the only way to attain the future they imagined when we moved here. Now that I am a college graduate, I can see that education has opened the door to internships, networking and jobs I would not have obtained otherwise. Most importantly, education has enhanced my ability to think outside the box and has provided me with the tools to forge a path for myself.
As a college advisor at Comprehensive Development Inc (CDI), I am now able to do what my parents, teachers and counselors did for me by providing support and encouragement to students that don’t necessarily have an easy access to education. CDI provides legal services, academic and personal support as well as college guidance to the students of Manhattan Comprehensive Night and Day High School. I am fortunate to work with a group of inspiring young men and women who, after only having been in the US for an average of four years, are pushing themselves to perfect their English, take advanced courses, and apply to college. When I remind myself that a couple of years ago these students might not have even been able to say the ABC’s in English, I am impressed that they are now succeeding academically and participating in community service and other demanding extracurricular activities.
The most rewarding aspect of the past seven months has been the opportunity to learn from the students with whom I work. Thus far, my year of service has taught me perseverance, responsibility and hope. I work primarily with immigrant students, many of whom come from circumstances that complicate their college application process. For example, coming from low-income backgrounds, most of the students who are currently employed work 30- 40 hours per week. It places an enormous strain on them to balance work and school, especially when they need to work in order to not be an economic burden on their parents. Most of them also have to deal with their family’s expectations surrounding college. For example, we have a lot of students whose parents expect that they attend a prestigious four year college, which places another burden on the student to succeed academically on top of everything else. Seeing these students work hard every day, I am inspired by their tenacity to succeed within a system that is so foreign to them as well as by their resistance to becoming overwhelmed.
As I look ahead to the next four months, I am eager to see what the future holds. With college acceptance letters in students’ inboxes, I am excited to see where my students will end up on their educational journeys. As they take the next steps towards their bright futures, I am hopeful that I can continue to be a resource for them. Just like it took a supportive network to help me achieve my goal of going to college, I hope to be a part of the network that will support and encourage them to pursue their educational goals.
Ivan Porto, from Palmdale, CA, attended the University of California, Los Angeles and is a College Advisor at Comprehensive Development Inc.