Itzel Santos, one of United Ministries’ former Adult Education students, stresses that “the power of words are so important.” Words are what discouraged her from finishing her primary education, and what supported her later when she passed her GED exam.

Despite the barriers of growing up in a broken family plagued with addiction and lacking legal documentation, Itzel had always intended to finish high school. Almost done with school, she moved from Arizona to South Carolina, where she found that graduation requirements differ from state to state. Furthermore, she was living with her boyfriend (now husband) when she got pregnant and experienced complications. After talking to an advisor not long after, she was told that since she had a child she was “too old to go to high school” again, crushing her determination and demonstrating how words can tear a person down. Itzel had planned on getting her GED quickly instead, but when her second and then third child came along, she decided to wait until her youngest child was older.

As a DACA Dreamer, she was able to get deferred action in 2017, when she worked over 60 hours a week at two jobs. This helped her gain her confidence to go back to school during the mornings and still work in the evenings, all while raising three kids. She heard about United Ministries on the radio and wanted to “give it a try.” She immediately felt welcomed, as “part of the family.” Although she got her GED with us after just 4 months, Itzel says “it was a three-year process. It took time to find the right program for me and my family.” So as soon as she learned she had passed the test, Itzel “was so excited and felt [she] accomplished [her] first main goal!” Her accomplishment also meant so much to her family and her mom especially, who told Itzel that it felt like “a gift from [Itzel] to her.”

Itzel has had a steady job as an administrative assistant since she got her GED, but now. she and her husband have their own construction business where Itzel feels blessed. She has had to “work extra hard as an immigrant,” and knows that within her position it can “be a little intimidating being a Hispanic woman in a man’s world.” That is not stopping her; she is currently working to get her contractor’s license and “learn another kind of English” for the test she will have to take. Since going through her education journey, Itzel always stresses to her children that “school matters,” and is rightfully proud of herself for creating the life she lives now.