As I think back on my journey, I am so grateful for the opportunity that the Champions For Learning mentoring and scholarship program has given me. My name is Marlene Ruiz-Perez and I entered the program when I was in my junior year of high school. Last week, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology at Florida Gulf Coast University and will be attending pharmacy school at the University of South Florida in the fall. Without the support that I received from Champions for Learning, I don’t know that my path would have been the same or that I would have been able to attend college debt-free.
I’m so thankful that being part of Champions for Learning meant being paired with a mentor. My mentor is someone that was not only there for me in high school but has continued with me into my next chapter of life, helping with areas outside what my peers were able to. We talk about all different topics, and in turn, have grown our relationship and bond. I have a friend that continuously encourages and motivates me to work hard and stay focused to achieve my goals. Our relationship has gone beyond mentor and mentee and is so strong, to me, I could say she is like family.
I am so proud to be the first in my family to attend and graduate college and to be a role model for my younger brothers. They have been able to see and learn from my experiences and see that they too can pursue post-secondary education debt-free. I am very glad that our single mother has not had to worry about our future. She knows that we have the support of Champions For Learning and has had the opportunity to learn with us throughout this process. She has encouraged and motivated me to work hard to achieve my dreams and now she can watch my hopes become a reality.
Through Champions for Learning, I have learned the importance of getting involved in my community. I have been able to pay it forward by being involved in organizations that allow me to make a difference in the lives of younger students and mentor them to pursue post-secondary education. I have gained new experiences, I have challenged myself, and I have become a greater part of my community by being involved. Through Champions, I have learned that it is never too early to make a difference.
Throughout high school, I attended weekly college and career lab sessions. The Champions For Learning staff provided us a wealth of resources, including how to properly complete college and scholarship applications. During this process I found many parts confusing but was able to utilize the resources provided by Champions to help me along. I learned how to create a proper resume, how to correctly fill out my FAFSA, and important skills for maintaining a budget. I have learned about a variety of careers through the presentations given by members of the community, and about study abroad programs presented by alumni. All of this has helped me feel prepared for my future and where I am now. My achievements and successes are proof that working hard and staying determined leads to achieving greatness. Because of Champions for Learning, I know that I have no limitations.