By Roxana Parise, Homeless Liaison, Bellingham Public Schools, WA
Back when I was in high school, my brother and I went to see our high school counselor to express our desire to attend college. Right away she expressed her concerns that college might not be the best choice for us. She recommended we set our sights a little lower. She thought we would be perfect candidates for working at the local “plantas” (that’s what we called the local food processing plants). After all, we were children of migrant workers, and there was no way we could afford college.
I wish I could talk to her today to let her know that all four kids in my family went to college. I attended Brigham Young University, and have become a fierce advocate for families and youth experiencing homelessness; my brother Galo graduated from Utah State and works for AbbVie Pharmaceuticals as a Hepatology Specialist and a Senior Territory Manager; my sister Sonia has two Master Degrees in Psychology; and my sister Ora received her degree in Manufacturing Production and runs one of those food processing plants.
Now fast forward to last month when I was meeting with a family that has been homeless since 2009. The oldest student is a senior this year, and I asked him about his plans for after high school. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “I want to be an actor. I want to make movies.” My first thought was that he needed to change his goals into something manageable and local. After all, he’s the oldest child of a single homeless mom and his income, even if it’s part-time and minimum wage, can make a big difference to his family.
Then I remembered my experience with my high school counselor and thought to myself, “Who am I to discourage this young man from reaching for the stars? Who knows, maybe he’s the next Robert De Niro, and all he needs is a little encouragement to make his dreams come true.” So, instead of talking about applying for a job at the local McDonald’s, we talked about joining his high school drama club and a community theater group.
Sometimes it’s easy for me to forget that our homeless youth have dreams for their future and that I should help them keep those dreams alive. My childhood helps me remember.