MIAMI – Nery Perez-Valdes wanted to become a doctor, but life got in the way.
She fled Cuba for Miami with her mom when she was 11 and found herself working at 14 to help pay the bills. Nery would become a single mom and for a long stretch worked two jobs to keep the lights on and food on the table.
“I was a single mom since I was three months pregnant, and when I’m saying, ‘single mom,’ I’m telling you ‘single mom.’ No child support. No help. No nothing. Period. The end,” Nery said. “Thanks to Step Up For Students, Ilen was able to get the education I wanted for her.”
Ilen has made the most of that opportunity – and then some.
She graduated this spring near the top of her class at Immaculate-LaSalle High School, a prestigious Catholic school in Miami. She has a scholarship to the University of Miami and plans to major in neuroscience and double minor in business administration management and Spanish. Her goal is to attend medical school and become a pediatric oncologist.
“My mother never received a college education. She was barely able to graduate high school. All she has done since she got (to the United States) is work, work, work,” Ilen said. “She came here looking for the American dream. I feel like if I succeed, she can live out her American dream through me.”
Ilen has received a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship since kindergarten. She said she’s grateful for the opportunity to receive a quality education – first at Saint Agatha Catholic School, and then at Immaculata-LaSalle.
“It was really difficult to make ends meet when I was younger, so I wouldn’t have been able to attend a private school where I received such an excellent education,” she said.
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