Brooklyn Lopez could write a book on overcoming adversity. Growing up without a father, raised by a mother struggling with alcohol and substance abuse, Lopez said she often found herself home alone and had to learn how to cook, clean and take care of her younger siblings by the age of 5.
Today, however, the former foster youth is a Cuyamaca College honor student who is on track to earn an associate degree in accounting in the spring of 2019. She has her sights set on transferring to San Diego State University and she is aiming for a career in finance or as an accountant.
Lopez’s achievements were recently rewarded with a Retiree Network Scholarship. The scholarship is given to a select few who – at the very least – have completed at least 24 units at the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, have a minimum grade point average of 3.0, are enrolled in a minimum of nine credits, and have plans to transfer to a four-year university or complete an associate degree or certificate.
“What motivates me is that I can prove to other students no matter what life throws at them, they can always choose the better option and the better path. There is no excuse to fall in the negative one,” she wrote in her scholarship essay.
Her determination has earned Lopez the respect of many.
“Brooklyn is a very intelligent, sweet, giving young woman,” said Financial Aid Advisor and Foster Youth Liaison Pam Fleming. “She also possesses that intangible, most-rare and required quality to reach her goals; she has grit. By that I mean when the unexpected occurs, she goes back and changes the plan, but she continues on toward her objectives. Nothing is going to stop her from achieving her educational and personal goals.”
Hers has been quite the journey. Born in San Diego and raised mostly in Santee, Lopez said she and her younger siblings were twice placed in foster homes while growing up. At one point, Lopez was placed under the care of an aunt in the Texas hamlet of Kaufman, some 20 miles or so east of Dallas.
“There was just so much going on in our lives,” said Lopez, now 20. “My mom would wake us in the middle of the night and take us with to go get her drugs. It just wasn’t a good environment.”
School wasn’t a priority. At least not until her freshman year in high school.
“I realized a good education was the only way out of that kind of life,” Lopez said. “Education was the only way to be successful.”
But despite graduating from West Hills High School with honors, going straight to a university was out of the question.
“Cuyamaca College was the best option,” said Lopez, who is engaged and has a 2-year-old son. “I didn’t have any money, there wasn’t going to be any kind of financial contributions from my family, and it is close to where I live. I haven’t been disappointed at all. It’s a great school and I’m glad I went there.”
The support services have been plentiful. Among them, the Cuyamaca College Up! Program (an acronym for Unlimited Potential!), a joint collaboration of the EOPS and Financial Aid program designed for former foster youth, homeless youth, or youth raised in guardianship who want to attend college. Services include academic, personal and career counseling; life skills seminars; priority registration; and mentoring. Lopez is one of the more than 23,000 former foster youth enrolled in the California Community Colleges system, according to a 2017 report that highlights the unique challenges these students face and cites the need for additional support such as Up!
Lopez also works in the Cuyamaca College Financial Aid office, which has brought her into contact with others who determined to overcome challenging conditions.
“The people at Cuyamaca are there for one reason and that’s to help you out,” she said. “I’m glad I can be a part of this community and culture.”