Paula Geronimo was born and raised in Colonia Los Obispos in Laredo, TX. Growing up, she was a bit nervous and shy, but was known as a determined student who always had a smile on her face and kind word for her friends.
Paula’s mother had been a hairdresser but decided to return home to raise Paula and her siblings. Her father worked in transportation and was, unfortunately, injured and unable to return to work around the time Paula began high school.
Shortly after, her family heard about community resources provided by Southwest Key Programs. The program, Las Promesas de Laredo, is designed to support youth and families in at-risk neighborhoods in the 78046 zip code through mentoring, community engagement, youth leadership development and after-school programs. Her neighborhood in Laredo was eligible for support given risk factors such as teen pregnancy rates, families living in poverty and abuse and juvenile probation statistics. The program’s goal is to prevent juvenile delinquency and promote positive outcomes.
When Paula started her junior year of high school, she was unsure about her ability to pursue her dream of college. Many of her classmates were dropping out of school, had become pregnant or didn’t have aspirations beyond high school graduation.
“I was planning to go to college but I didn’t have high expectations for myself. The most I had imagined was going to our community college. Some of my friends were planning on going to college also, but none of us really thought about going out of town or that we had more potential,” says Paula.
After completing her youth leadership development series, Paula took her involvement further and joined the Youth Advisory Council (YAC). Within weeks, the typically reserved young lady flourished and found her footing. “As soon as I started getting the hang of things and began to trust everybody, I started being more outgoing and they eventually saw that I was outspoken in my group and motivated me to become YAC president,” she shares. “They made me realize I had much more potential and capability to do more than I originally thought I could.
She credits the group with believing in her, building up her confidence and showing her that she is a capable young leader. Paula is now a freshman at Texas A&M on a full scholarship. She plans to major in Computer Engineering. It’s a subject she’s passionate about, one that she says is made of only 12% Latina women. As a young Mexican-American woman, she hopes to see this number increase.
Southwest Key believes in giving youth opportunities to serve their community, practice leadership skills and discover strengths they may not have known exist within them. This summer, Southwest Key awarded Paula, as well as four other Youth Justice participants, partial scholarships toward their higher education.
“Paula demonstrated a curiosity for learning and a drive to pursue every opportunity offered to her. Providing a supportive environment is the foundation of many of our Youth Justice programs and it’s amazing what our staff have been able to help these young men and women accomplish,” says Southwest Key VP of Youth Justice Services Veronica Delgado-Savage.
Paula has now started her 1st year at Texas A&M and doesn’t feel so shy anymore. She’s already taking on a leadership role within student government and says she’s excited to set an example for other Youth with her background, including kids back in Laredo.
If you enjoyed this story, learn more about how Southwest Key’s Youth Justice programming helps thousands of youth like Paula.