Our students and alumni come from a diverse array of locations, backgrounds, and experiences. Alumna, Sandra Romero-Viguerias, was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and moved east of Los Angeles just before her 1st-grade class at Franklin Elementary in Pasadena was sponsored by IHADLA as Program 15. When Sandra first joined our program, she couldn’t speak English and faced many challenges. She noted that her father was a “driving factor” in her life, particularly her education. Her dad said, “The only inheritance you will get from me is your education.” Despite moving away from the area when she was in 2nd grade, he drove her 2+ hours to as many IHADLA events as possible, consistently reminding her how fortunate she was to be a part of the program. Her father’s commitment to her success continued through high school when he would drive Sandra great distances daily to Notre Dame, a private school in Riverside that Sandra could attend because of IHADLA.
In addition to language and distance barriers, Sandra faced other personal obstacles. She was undocumented until age 19, and shortly before that, her mother was diagnosed with a mental disorder and hospitalized. Witnessing her mom’s battle with mental health grew a curiosity within Sandra and helped her discover a desire to work within the field of social work. Despite doubting her abilities, IHADLA normalized college for her through the serval campus visits over the years that ultimately inspired her to dream big and visualize herself as a student on campus. Through the support of her family and her IHADLA Program Coordinator, Raquel Alvarado, who encouraged and nurtured her love for education and gave her the “courage to keep trying”, she developed a fire inside to pursue and complete higher education, even in the face of trauma.
Undoubtedly, Sandra earned her Associate’s degree at San Bernardino Valley College, her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Cal State University San Bernardino, and her Master of Social Work from USC. Looking back on her higher education experience, Sandra said it wasn’t until she earned her MSW that she realized all she had accomplished. She recounted Mrs. Alvarado’s influence and described her role as the one whose “job was to get me to walk across the high school stage (but) has been there for me every step of the way…from cheering me on in high school, to writing me a letter of recommendation for grad school.” Her educational dreams don’t stop here, as Sandra hopes to pursue a Ph.D. or Doctor of Social Work degree one day.
Sandra now works as a Clinical Therapist for the county of San Bernardino’s Crisis Response Team and as an Assessment and Referral Counselor for Canyon Ridge Hospital, a private psychiatric hospital, pursuing her passion for helping others and giving back to her community. Aside from her academic and professional achievements, Sandra became a citizen at the age of 25. She feels that IHADLA impacted her life by teaching her to have the courage to try new things, be a leader, and, more importantly, to speak up when everyone else turns away. She believes the work that IHADLA is investing in our communities is essential and that “we need to continue to motivate youth and inspire them to be leaders and give back to our communities!” She also hopes to one day sponsor an IHADLA program to deepen the organization’s impact that so drastically changed her life. Of course, we at IHADLA are so proud of everything Sandra has accomplished and can’t wait to see what other incredible milestones she will reach!