As we give thanks…
…the story of one resilient young woman…
I would say the best adjective to use for my personality as a child was spunky. At school, I was a whirlwind of energy, mess of curls, and unstoppable talking force. I was 11, and along with the usual struggles of becoming a young lady, I was attempting to deal with Type 1 Diabetes and an unstable home environment.
At home I was the only girl in a family of 3 younger boys and my parents. My mom was from a small town in Mexico. She’d gone to college and had a degree in chemical engineering. My father had been in the child militias of East Africa, and had escaped to seek refuge in the US at age 17. Both of my parents had no one in this country and they both didn’t speak the language when they arrived. I was raised to believe that life was hard for everyone and that although you didn’t decide the location of your birth, you could make the best of your situation regardless.
Coming into middle school was intimidating and at times felt impossible. I wasn’t extraordinarily athletic. I was smart, but I wasn’t a genius. I couldn’t identify with one specific race so some groups wouldn’t let me in their cliques. Throughout middle school, I spent a lot of my time in the central office with the nurse. Being a Type 1 insulin dependent diabetic was a struggle for me. After a while, most of the staff at my school realized that accommodations needed to be made in order for me to succeed in school. The school nurse introduced me to Ms. Kendria Taylor, the CIS Site Coordinator.
Ms. Taylor was young, a graduate from UNT, and she was spunky too! Her CIS office was in the central office where I spent a class period being an office aide and seeing the nurse for my health. It was perfect for me. I started getting more and more involved with other students who were also in CIS. I didn’t have any sisters or cousins or friends to talk to about boys, middle school drama, or how to do my hair. I didn’t have a role model at home who looked like me or who could understand my day-to-day challenges. Becoming a young lady with no type of guide was something I didn’t understand.
Now as an adult, I can see that Ms. Taylor was doing something for me that no one had done before. As a young Afro Latina girl, she gave me the opportunity to glance into my own future and see how much better life could get if I could just keep pushing and get through the critical hard years. I would eat lunch in her office or work on my homework if I had free time. She helped me feel like I had a friend in a school where I couldn’t identify with any of the children. More importantly, she was one of the only adults I felt actually took an interest in the things that were happening to me and advised me on how to persevere.
My first summer after being a part of CIS, I got to go to Dallas Cowboys Camp. Ms. Taylor chaperoned me and about 6 other girls. We played football with some of the Cowboys players, got to meet the cheerleaders. It was the most fun I got to have in a long time. This was one of the first times I was able to get along with girls my age and I knew it had everything to do with CIS.
8th grade was another struggle. I spent the majority of the year hospitalized for different issues. Ms. Taylor would bring me my homework and assignments to Children’s Hospital to make sure I got them done so I could go to high school. I was really worried that I wouldn’t get to go to the 8th grade dance. Ms. Taylor helped me make sure I got all my assignments turned in and that my grades were high enough to go. I couldn’t believe it when my parents agreed!
Ms. Taylor and CIS legitimately changed the course of my life. I was raised to know that life was difficult, but Ms. Taylor taught me that things were painful but survivable. She taught me that everyone has a future, but that it’s up to you, not your situation, your parents, your friends, just you. She and CIS were a lifeboat when I was trying to get off the Titanic. That is what CIS did for me. It gave me hope, someone to be my ally during those confusing years in every teenager’s life. It taught me life skills I wouldn’t have learned at home or in the classroom. I will always be eternally grateful to CIS and to the opportunities it gave me.
Today, Eritrea is a college graduate working on a school campus in Dallas. Imagine her surprise and delight when she learned that her new employer had a CISDR office! Eritrea’s former Site Coordinator, Kendria Taylor, is now a member of the CISDR Board, and Eritrea herself volunteers with our Leadership Council.
We are very thankful for Eritrea’s personal and professional success, as well as the hundreds of thousands of other students who have overcome adversity through the Communities In Schools program. We are also grateful for the hard work of our staff, volunteers, amazing board and you!