Some people have the tenacity and determination to prove that nothing—no obstacle, mindset, or station in life—will prevent them from reaching their potential and helping others they care deeply about. Alejandra Aquino is just such a person. To meet her, you'd never know the incredible adversity she and her family have faced. You are overcome at how extraordinary she is, and you instinctively know she will, without a doubt, realize her dreams and create experiences, joy, opportunities, and hope for her four younger siblings.
Among the first things one notices about Alejandra is her bright and engaging personality. This fun and sociable collegian is a senior at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York, majoring in international business and minoring in global and women's studies. A West Coast girl, she selected a college across the country to intentionally navigate a new environment and to continue a beloved hobby—playing Division 2 Rugby. Within the highly diverse environment of international students at Marist, she's expanding her worldview and her career options even more.
Alejandra owns her story and tells it with bravery and grace. Her family migrated from Guatemala when she was just a toddler. Her mother was desperate for a better life for her children, but when faced with a medical challenge, she was unable to work for a time. This threw the family into a precarious situation, including a period of homelessness and a struggle for food and basic needs. A voracious learner, Alejandra once went to school without shoes and was sent home. "I just wanted to be in school no matter what," she says.
Just after Alejandra's 11th birthday, things began to align for her. Alejandra's family found housing; she found Jacquie, who is still her "big sister" and mentor; and she was accepted to Boys Hope Girls Hope of Southern California. She expresses gratitude for the stability, her education, exposure to people who went out of their way for her, and time in therapy, which taught her that, "Self-care is not selfish." Alejandra says one of the biggest lessons she learned is that a support system doesn't always have to be one's biological family. She notes that after joining Boys Hope Girls Hope, she began to believe that she is deserving, to see where her potential could take her, and to understand she isn't limited by the only life she knew. "Now, I'm working on my education and doing these things that I felt, for so long, took me away from helping to raise my siblings. But they are necessary for me to put myself in a position of success to give them a similar support system to that I've had."
And if she wasn't busy enough, Alejandra is working her way through college at McDonald's (because she can max out hours during the overnight shift with classes during the day). She also leans on poetry and art as a way of expressing herself. Alejandra is most excited about receiving her citizenship in 2020 and a scholarship from the Shawn Carter Foundation, funded by Beyonce's husband, Jay-Z. "Boys Hope Girls Hope has given me so much advice and encouragement," Alejandra says, "People are always trying to pay it forward. The return on investment is bettering somebody's life, and I want to go back and help wherever I can."