“Knowing they were there for me filled my heart.”



“When I found AHO and Zara, I felt as if my goal of getting an education was now possible because I had the support I needed.”

Elisa with mask

My name is Elisa and I’m 23 years old. When I first arrived in the United States in 2014, I was very young and by myself. I was living with my cousins and was sleeping in the living room. I noticed that there were a lot of people living in the apartment. For that reason, I decided that I needed to move out because I felt as if I was unable to concentrate on my studies and work. I had a goal of pursuing higher education and felt as if I had no guidance or support. Arriving in the U.S I wanted to become independent but was not familiarized on how to make the first move to pursue it. When I found Ambassadors of Hope and Opportunity (AHO) at College of Marin (COM) and told Zara, the founder and executive director about my situation, AHO immediately took me under their wing and helped me. 

When I first started at College of Marin, I decided to apply to the Educational Opportunity Program and Services (EOPS). Through EOPS I got into contact with AHO. I remember looking at the bulletin board that College of Marin has and noticed the AHO “We Are Here to Help” card. When I saw the card, I immediately texted Zara and she responded that day and we scheduled an appointment to meet at the Equator Coffee in Mill Valley. I was very scared because I was not fluent in English. However, I was surprised at how Zara interacted with me. She was friendly, kind and offered me coffee.  She treated me like as if she already knew me before which made me feel like I could trust her. When I meet other people, it can be scary at first, but with her it was not. I can remember Zara saying to me, “AHO is here to help you” with all the resources it has to offer. When I heard this, I could not believe that she would say that to me.  I never had any support like AHO, but when Zara and AHO gave me the support I was desperately looking for, I felt confident that I could go after my goal. Zara and AHO has been an organization that has welcomed me and I am grateful that I could be a part of this amazing organization.

AHO and Zara have provided an English tutor/mentor that has worked with me on my writing, reading and speaking skills. With my tutor/mentor I have read books filled with wisdom like “What I Know for Sure” by Oprah Winfrey and “Living with Joy – Keys to Personal Power” by Sanaya Roman. My tutor helped me work on sentence structures, and has helped me with my speaking skills as well. These are things I have wanted to work on and without AHO or Zara I don’t know if I would have been able to have the opportunity to work on my English.

When COVID hit, I was struggling to pay for my expenses. I was worried and I reached out to Zara. Being able to reach out to Zara when I needed help made me feel a sense of security. I was struggling to pay my rent and AHO paid my rent for me so I could focus on my studies. AHO was there for me when I needed it the most.  Knowing they were there for me filled my heart. Zara and AHO remind me of angels who are sent out to help those during hard moments. Zara has been my number one cheerleader. Every single time I have questions or need advice about anything, I know I can go to Zara.  This is something I really needed after being here in the U.S Since I came to the US five years ago I had been lost and confused about what I wanted to pursue in my life.  When I found AHO and Zara, I felt as if my goal of getting an education was now possible because I had the support I needed. I am currently attending College of Marin and when I complete my studies at COM, I plan on transferring into a four-year university. I never thought I would be able to do it. But now I am driven and know that my goal of attending a four-year university is possible with the support of AHO.

AHO is a very unique organization. It is a place where youth can talk about anything affecting them. The program is very-intimate and personalized.  I had the opportunity to meet and get to know other youth at AHO who have also experienced not having a permanent home or support system. Zara is here for the youth and supports the things we want to accomplish. She gives great advice and is a very wise woman who is here to offer any guidance she has for all the youth who ask for help. Thank you, Zara and AHO for the AMAZING support!