In the fall of 2008, I was invited by my boss to go with him to a high school in a run-down area of Bushwick. He needed help with a workshop on college application essays. That’s when I met Carlos–a young man whose life story seemed eerily familiar. Like me, he was the oldest of four. Like me, he was a first-generation immigrant and had moved from a struggling Latin American country with his family to gain better education and a better future. That was simply something Nicaragua could not supply. Like me, he had grown up with an alcoholic father, and a mother he saw only after she got home from one of her three cleaning jobs. And, like me, he pretty much raised his younger siblings on his own.
I was lucky. My assigned public school was a good one, with great counselors, AP courses, an arts curriculum. (We were a low-income school, but at least we had one.) We also had many white kids whose parents made sure that the school was doing its best. (You know how certain white moms roll. It’s all about taking care of business—the business of you-bettah-make sure Mikey has a good teacher! Now, I’m not, putting anyone down. In fact, I wish my mom understood how to do that.) But, like Carlos and so many other first-gen kids, it’s just not the same. Most of us never get as lucky as I was.
Since that first workshop (which evolved into Essay Busters program we have now), I have worked with so many like Carlos—students who are riddled with people abandoning them, no books, broken school systems and the list goes on. Certainly Carlos and his classmates had little to no college guidance. Simply, it’s unfair. I’m doing my best to change that as I help each of my Essay Busters mentees work on their college essays.
By the end of the program, he didn’t just have an amazing personal statement. He had a whole new outlook on life. He had met someone who actually cared, who left work early once a week to talk to him about his life, who called him out when he was not being his best, and who stood by him and urged him on—someone in his corner who helped him grow up.
My experience is one shared by every mentor and student that comes through Essay Busters. I wish I could do more. We need your help (and you don’t have to come from a similar background as Carlos and me…these kids need exposure to all kinds of mentors). Essay Busters, like its students, struggles daily to stay afloat. For now, I do what I can. I mentor as much as possible. I’ll be doing it again in the fall. And again, and again. Here’s the real truth: Essay Busters give me my life, makes me feel honored and makes me feel privileged.
Roberto Pineda Sanchez