Life has not been easy for Alma Torres, but she believes that with her family’s support and tons of hard work, she can overcome anything – and she’s right.
Alma and her family emigrated from Mexico to the United States when she was 11 years old. Her father found a job working as a school custodian while her mother stayed home to care for Alma and her siblings. There were many things to learn and get accustomed to in a new country, but after a few years, the U.S. felt like home and things settled down for the family.
However, Alma and her family faced a greater challenge when Alma was hospitalized with kidney failure during her sophomore year of high school. She received dialysis and eventually had to have a kidney transplant. The hospitalization and recovery kept her out of school for nine months. When she finally returned to school, she was behind and had to take evening remedial classes to catch up. But she continued to enjoy school and dreamed of going onto college.
Although Alma would need to take certain medications for the rest of her life, she and her parents were relieved that she was healthy again. But they still faced many unpaid hospital bills and the cost of her monthly prescriptions added a strain on the family’s finances.
“I remember my dad telling me that I wouldn’t be able to go to college. He explained that it was too expensive and that we just couldn’t afford it,” Alma said. “So I planned to get a job after high school.”
Alma got good grades and had a high grade point average. She was disappointed to hear that college was out of reach. She had just about given up hope when her school counselor suggested she apply for the One at A Time Scholarship, SVdP’s college scholarship and mentoring program.
“I had no idea if I would get it, but I decided to try anyway,” Alma said.
After submitting her application and going through the interview process, Alma was accepted.
“I couldn’t believe it because I thought I did so poorly during the interview. My health issues were very emotional for me to talk about. I don’t remember the interview much, other than crying a lot while explaining why I wanted to go to college,” Alma said.
After starting at Phoenix College, Alma transferred to Arizona State University. Alma graduated with a bachelor’s degree in special education and elementary education last year.
“I am so grateful to St. Vincent de Paul and my mentor Karen Laviola,” Alma said. “Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to get a college education. Karen gave me good advice and helped me navigate the education system. She was always there for me when I needed help.”
Alma will be pursuing student teaching opportunities while she considers continuing her education to earn a master’s degree. She hopes to teach kindergarten to fourth grade in special education.
“I love working with kids and seeing the impact I have on their education,” Alma said. “I don’t believe in good luck. I think you have to work hard for opportunities to come to you. That’s what I want to teach kids who have special needs.”
Donate online to support the One at a Time Scholarship program and other St. Vincent de Paul programs that improve the lives of working-poor individuals. Or donate by contacting our development department at (602) 261-6814.