Growing up, Cynthia Reyes didn’t think much about the future.
She was the second to youngest of six children raised by a teenage mother, and they often had little to eat and sometimes no place to live. She was the first in her family to graduate high school but for several years after that, she didn’t feel motivated to go further.
“Before going to UEI College, I didn’t really care about what job I got. I didn’t care if I was going to work in a warehouse all my life,” she said.
That apathy led Cynthia to a dark place but over time she began to reflect on her childhood, and on her family’s struggles with mental health, and knew she didn’t want the same for her daughter.
“Although my mother had to raise six kids and figure life out with little to no help, she did it,” Cynthia said. “I watched her deal with depression for most of my life due to her childhood trauma. It wasn’t always easy, we didn’t always have a home to sleep in or a full refrigerator, and when those hard times would hit, my big brother would come to save the day with a game of ‘Fear Factor’ and put together anything we had left of food to feed us. Sometimes we would sleep in motels for days or in our local church. Those memories always stick with me.”
“I’ve always been interested in learning,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to know more about something. Once I stick my mind to something, I’m 100 percent in. That’s what happened once I started going to UEI. I guess once you get older you want to strive for more. You think about your childhood, and you want to do better and be better. Not better than your siblings or better than the next person but just better for yourself.”
Right away, Cynthia connected with what she was learning in class, but she also learned her support system at home wasn’t as strong as she had hoped it would be. Juggling working, taking care of her home life and going to school was difficult, but Cynthia was committed to her education.
“I just really started thinking about my daughter,” she said. “It’s not easy. It’s not easy going to work and finding someone to babysit your child, or going to work and going to school right after. I just had to do it. I had to put my mind to it. If it was something I wanted to do and something I could show my daughter that I could do and break generational cycles within my family, I had to stick with it and go through it. Sometimes you just want someone to say, ‘Hey, you’re doing good. You came this far. You can keep going.’ When you don’t receive it, you have to be the one to tell yourself you can do it.”
Flor Valentin, Cynthia’s instructor, noticed her dedication right away.
“She was always my go-to,” she said. “She would come in early and help make sure everything was set up for the class. If I needed copies, she would do that. She was always on top of everything. If anyone new came in, she would tell me she wanted to teach them what she knows and she wanted me to watch and make sure it was OK. I think that was how she ended up embracing the title of ambassador.”
As an ambassador for the program, Cynthia attended school events, mentored students and tutored those in her class who needed assistance. Despite her own struggles, she came to school to motivate and serve others.
“I want to inspire people,” she said. “My childhood triggers me sometimes. I want to get in the field and help a patient that is going through the same thing and talk them out of a certain situation. I want to make a change.”
When it was time for her externship, Ms. Valentin recommended Cynthia for a position at the same office she currently works at.
“I told my manager she was one of the best students I have,” Ms. Valentin said. “She is so admirable. I was in her same situation. I graduated from UEI when I was going through a lot of things at home. The fact that she was able to open up and tell me her experience, I just thought she is out of this world. I don’t know how I did it, but she was doing it as well. She was just an admirable person to be around.”
“I’m so happy for the opportunity that I got to go into the program because I just see myself doing more,” Cynthia said. “I see myself wanting to be educated on more and wanting to strive for more and do as much as possible. It just opened up so much in my mind. If I got through this time in school, maybe I can do more. The possibilities are endless from here.”
The biggest accomplishment from going through this program, Cynthia said, is seeing the effect it has had on her daughter. Her young daughter went from playing pretend princess or hair stylist to now playing doctor.
“I just want for whoever is going to read this to go for it,” Cynthia said. “If you are not sure about something, just go for it. What can you lose? You have your whole life ahead of you. If you fail, you pick yourself back up and keep moving on. You never know who needs your encouragement. You never know what changes you can make in someone’s life or in the world. Never dumb yourself down because of your childhood, or because of your background, or because your family isn’t there. You don’t do it for anyone else. You do it for yourself.”