“AHO is like my newly found ‘family’ in the United States.”

“I was shocked at all the support AHO could provide including housing, dental and eye exams and eyeglasses and other needs, including leadership opportunities.”

My name is Erick, and I am 25 years old. In September 2014, I came to the United States to live in San Rafael, California where my Dad was living. Three years later my Dad died in a tragic car accident and I was left here alone.

When I was in my village growing up in Guatemala, my dream was to live in the United States so I could have a better life and get an education. I came from a small village in Guatemala where education was not valued and the majority of my community there only attended elementary school. Coming to the United States to study was not easy; I struggled a lot. I did not speak English well and felt isolated and alone. In spite of these feelings, I did keep going toward my educational goals and earned my GED (equivalent of a high school diploma). I am the first person from my village to receive that degree. I am now at College of Marin (COM) working on my Associates Degree. When I complete that degree, I plan to go on to San Francisco State to get my BA. I will be the first person, not only in my family, but in my whole village in Guatemala, to get a Bachelor’s Degree.

This is the story of my journey of how Ambassadors of Hope and Opportunity (AHO) nonprofit has helped me toward my goals. On January 22nd 2019, I started my first year of general education at College of Marin (COM). Emigrating from Guatemala to the United States was one of the most difficult challenges I’ve experienced in my life. I came with the intention to work hard and support my family and to create a better life. However, I felt miserable and isolated not being able to speak English. I started taking English classes, so I could practice communicating with people who only speak English. If I hadn’t done that, I may never have found AHO.

After my first semester at COM, I experienced rough times. Basic expenses to live in Marin were much above my financial ability; so much so, I got to the point of almost dropping out of college. I didn’t see how I would to be able to keep going since I couldn’t pay for my dental care needs, or for an eye exam and eyeglasses which I needed to be able to study. I was extremely stressed because I didn’t understand my homework and I was deeply lonely with no one to talk to about all my emotions. My life felt terrible and I didn’t know how to deal with all these challenges all by myself, with no family or support. It was really overwhelming for me living alone, studying a foreign language, going to college and working.

Then one day at COM I met Zara, AHO’s founder, and Nick a youth served by AHO, at a school even that changed my thinking, and ultimately my life, about what was possible. I was shocked at all the support AHO could provide including housing, dental and eye exams and eyeglasses and other needs, including leadership opportunities. It didn’t seem possible; I was skeptical and in doubt that I could actually get the help I needed. Zara happily explained that AHO could help and told me to text her for an appointment, which I did. I was met the very next day at COM’s cafeteria.

I remember when I first met with Zara, I was a little nervous and scared because I thought she was going to ask about my status in United States, or for my ID. Luckily, Zara does not see youth in terms where we come from, she just opens her arms and reaches out to help in any way we might need to move forward in our educational and life goals. This is one of many amazing ways that AHO is so unique and special. Other nonprofit organizations would not meet you in one day after calling or texting for help. It would take weeks or months of waiting to get an appointment, and then you would have to prove you are a citizen, or worthy of help. Having to go through a process like the government and other agencies typically require is a huge risk for homeless youth from another country. AHO, on the other hand, provides homeless youth immediate, personalized support without time-consuming waiting and paperwork.

If I had not met Zara, I would not have been able to continue my education to fulfill the dreams I’ve had since I was a little boy in Guatemala. As an introverted kid who didn’t really trust anyone, I was surprised that when I met Zara, I was able to trust her right way. If I hadn’t been able to trust Zara, this would have been tragic for me and I would have not had all the great resources, support and opportunities AHO is providing for me. I now feel confident that I can continue to reach my educational and life goals with the AHO’s support. AHO is like my newly found ‘family’ in the United States.

AHO is also helping me with opportunities to be a leader. November of this year, 2019, I got the chance to speak and share my story to students and staff at Dominican University of California along with 4 other AHO youth. Although, I am afraid to speak in front of people, I had the courage to speak because of AHO’s support and belief in me. This opportunity to speak has increased my confidence and has helped me grow. As teenager, I always dreamed about speaking in public to inspire others. I think my dream is coming true by being part of the AHO community where I will now have many more opportunities to share my story. AHO not only provides the resources I need to move forward, but also helps me grow in my personal and academic life. I am very grateful that I found AHO.

Today, I am extremely excited about my future because of the support I now have with AHO. In 2021, I plan on transferring to SF State University after completing my requirements at COM. Although I am undecided as to what field I want as my major in; I am leaning toward either psychology or sociology. Surely this will come true because my personal experience with homelessness, feeling isolated and alone is in my heart to help other youth feel supported to have their dreams come true. I am truly blessed to have found AHO. I look forward to continuing to share my story and to “give back” by volunteering for AHO’s Youth Leadership team projects. Together with other AHO youth, I hope to inspire the community to get involved to help Marin youth, who are reaching out for help, to create a better life for themselves beyond homelessness.