Two years ago, Yuzellie Garcia decided to return to school to become the person she needed when she was a child.
I graduated in 2012 and spent a few years not knowing what I wanted to do,” said Ms. Garcia.
But when it finally came time to decide what to do, Ms. Garcia sought purpose and meaning from her childhood experiences. Her upbringing wasn’t easy. She grew up in a single parent household with three siblings. Her mom worked three jobs and struggled to make ends meet. She also experienced sexual and emotional abuse.
I’m studying what I’m studying because of the sexual and emotional abuse I endured. Things like being locked in a dark closet all day and growing up with shame, self-blame and guilt. Thinking it was my fault, and not having anyone there to show me that what was going on wasn’t OK, and it wasn’t my fault,” Ms. Garcia said.
She is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice; she will be attending Florida State University this summer to study criminology and criminal justice and hopes to use her education to work in the human trafficking field. Her journey has led her to find a very clear purpose — to help children who are struggling with abuse. Children in low-income homes, who may be at risk. Children who may need a mentor like herself.
Ms. Garcia is on the path to fulfilling her goal thanks to the Southwest Florida Women’s Foundation Earn to Learn FL Program. Earn to Learn FL helps low-to-moderate income students earn a higher education with little or no student debt. It’s a simple formula that combines mandatory student savings with financial aid, required financial literacy training and success coaching. Through the program, Ms. Garcia has been able to secure $9,000 to fund her education. She has saved $1,000 of her funds and received an $8,000 match supported by the Southwest Florida Women’s Foundation and local partners like the Southwest Florida Community Foundation.
“The Earn to Learn experience has been amazing; it’s so easy. The application was very fast. The lengthiest thing was the financial literacy course, but that was helpful. It wasn’t something that you would dread to do. The Women’s Foundation worked with me and my circumstances,” said Ms. Garcia.
For students like Ms. Garcia, education is much more than a simple degree. It’s a way to serve and fulfill their purpose. To pay it forward so that future generations have the opportunity to thrive.