Breaking Barriers, Changing Lives: Cristal’s Story

In her own words, CSF Alumna Cristal shares the struggles she faced and how CSF provided the support she needed to pursue her dreams.

Growing up in East Yakima, I didn’t think it was possible for someone like me to go to college. My father was in and out of the prison system, and my family was struggling to make ends meet.

I watched my mother wake up before dawn to get ready for work in the orchards and not come home until dusk to provide for my siblings and me.

As the oldest daughter at 12 years old, I took on the responsibility of cooking, cleaning, and looking after my two younger siblings. By the age of 16, I was working more than 20 hours a week to help support my family, all while balancing Running Start, taking advanced placement classes, and participating in extracurricular activities.

A four-year college wasn’t at the front of my mind, but this wasn’t what discouraged me from applying. Rather, it was an accumulation of responses from people I looked up to that affected my ability to see myself going beyond high school.

I remember the first time I was told I couldn’t succeed. I was held back in Kindergarten because I had moved from Mexico in the middle of the school year, and I didn’t speak fluent English. I was proficient at my ABC’s and 123s, but that wasn’t enough.

This stuck with me until middle school, when I decided that I wanted to graduate with my original class and got approved to skip the sixth grade. When I told my favorite teacher how excited I was, her response was to shake her head and say, “You’re making a mistake.”

Fast forward to the end of sophomore year in high school when I was in the process of applying to running start. I was worried about succeeding in college-level English as it was the subject I struggled with the most, so I went to a staff member for advice and encouragement. But her response was, “If you’re struggling in English now, you won’t make it.”

Then, during my junior year of high school, College Success Foundation came to my class to speak about their CSF Achievers program. I had been accepted to Running Start, and I was just starting to think that college could be possible as I saw other students who looked like me and came from backgrounds like mine. But my mom only made it through fifth grade, so anything that had to do with school I usually did on my own. I knew I needed support for a long road ahead.

Through CSF’s Achievers program and the efforts of my mentor and CSF advisor, I was provided with the support and encouragement I needed in the moments I doubted myself the most. They helped inspire me to overcome my uncertainty about achieving the future I had long dreamed of. The weekend trips to college campuses and listening to college student guest speakers helped me feel confident in myself.

CSF guided me through the college application process and challenged me to envision a future I once thought wasn’t made for me. The program helped me work on college applications and prepare for life as an adult. I learned about money, time management, and other day-to-day life skills.

By the end of my senior year, I was accepted to all nine colleges I applied for. I was excited yet uncertain of my future. I couldn’t possibly afford to go to college. Once again, I became discouraged.

But then I was told about CSF’s Leadership 1000 Scholarship. What stuck out to me was that in addition to the scholarship, I would receive career guidance and networking opportunities with alumni and scholarship supporters like you to ensure my success. It felt personal.

I still remember the day I opened the email stating that I was a recipient. That moment really impacted my perspective on how I viewed myself and my ability to succeed. Seeing how others were willing to invest in me because they believed that I am more than capable of achieving success was truly eye opening.

Through the support of the L1000 Scholarship, I was able to fully immerse myself in my education and enjoy the experience of being a student. Although I still had financial commitments at home, I knew that college funding wasn’t a barrier any longer.

During my time in college, I became passionate about homelessness. As I was involved in volunteer groups that attended to the needs of this population, I became aware of factors that lead to homelessness and dedicated myself to the cause.

I recently graduated debt free from the University of Washington with a bachelor’s degree in social welfare and comparative history of ideas. Being a first-generation college student wasn’t easy, and at times I felt that I didn’t belong. If it wasn’t for the continuous help of CSF, my college experience would’ve been limited.

Through the L1000 Scholarship, I was able to go on two study abroad trips, participate in leadership programs, and enjoy time making friendships through extracurricular activities. The impact was not only academic and professional, but also personal.

Going to college has inspired my friends and younger siblings to think that it is possible. For my 16-year-old sister, it’s no longer a question of whether she will be able to go to college; it’s now a question of where she will go to college.

I now work as a mental health case manager serving chronically homeless individuals with severe and persistent mental illness and substance use disorders. Our program is essentially the last stop for those others have given up on. Although challenging, this job has made me realize that everyone has the capacity to thrive when given consistent support and resources.

I plan on applying to the Master of Social Work program this fall to get one step closer to my dream of opening a nonprofit for youth experiencing homelessness in my hometown of Yakima. My hope is that no youth will have to worry about having their most basic needs met. I want to give them a space where they can feel supported and get the tools to succeed—whatever success means to them.

It would be difficult to overstate how instrumental CSF was in building my confidence and helping me reach my full potential through higher education. Their financial investment has been integral in establishing a foundation for me to explore my passions and opportunities, but their impact extends well beyond the material. The L1000 Scholarship, College Success Foundation, and all who invested funds in the achievement of students in higher education have made college possible for so many more of us.

The value of CSF’s investment in students like me is indispensable, and I cannot thank them enough for funding the education of underserved students in our community.

You can make a difference in the lives of deserving students like Cristal. Donate to CSF today.