Jacqueline Leyva grew up in a struggling Orange County, California, community. Every day she experienced grim reminders that she was born into a family filled with love but lacking in finances. Kids don’t have the ability to choose their circumstances. They grow into them—learn to accept them. At what point is a kid in charge of choosing to change those circumstances should she want to? Can a five-year-old, a ten-year-old? Or does the choice fall on the adolescent as she enrolls in high school?
If a kid is born into a family incapable of showing her what lies beyond poverty, how does she know what’s possible? Like a prisoner in Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” an individual born into circumstances knows only those circumstances. Without the finances or knowledge to educate a child about what lies beyond her current situation, she has to seek out the path that ushers her toward change. Then, she has to believe the passage will lead her where she wants to go. She needs knowledge and trust. Add to that the greasy tangible—money. Money doesn’t transpire simply through trust, no. And that green monster can stop dreams dead. Or delay them. Or make them feel insurmountable. Dreams.
This situation describes Jacqueline. She grew up facing the lack of opportunities within her family and community. During her high school years, Jacqueline and her mom didn’t have a home or apartment. They relied on the hospitality of friends or family members. Bouncing from place to place, Jacqueline was never sure where she’d sleep on any given night. She didn’t have a quiet place to complete homework, or even a corner of a room to call her own.
Daily, this girl watched her mom who couldn’t drive, board a bus to work hours before her start time. Then, she greeted her late into the evening. Jacqueline missed out on precious hours with her mother. Rather than feel sorry for herself, Jacqueline embraced the perspective of a survivor. She took the moniker, underdog, and used it as power to drive her dream.
Despite her world inside a cave where shadows projected themselves in the forms of gang activity, drugs, and teen pregnancy, Jacqueline focused on a light that at first glowed dimly. The ebullience grew brighter for her when she started to play lacrosse at Tustin High School. Soon Jacqueline viewed her teachers and coaches as guides who could usher her out of the darkness.
Keri Kimes, Jacqueline’s English teacher, recalls the assiduous girl her sophomore year, “Jackie did not have Internet at home, so when I arrived for zero period, she was already sitting on the ramp to my classroom working on her homework because she needed the wireless signal from my classroom. That really represents who Jackie is—she will do whatever it takes to accomplish her goals.” As her new lacrosse coach, Keri already knew Jacqueline. After witnessing the girl’s hard-work ethic on and off the field Keri saw an opportunity to help her student/player excel academically and athletically—the recipe, along with perseverance, that would help get her to college.
THE FIELD IS MY TEMPLE
Instead of focusing on problems at home, Jacqueline chose to turn to the field where she practiced consistently on her own. She viewed the field as her sanctuary, as the only place where she could dismiss problems, release emotion, and truly be herself. “The field is my temple,” says Jacqueline. “It is the place where I can find peace. I wanted to keep my temple, so I figured out a way to keep playing.” Her equation brought her to this conclusion: she could keep playing if she attended college. Lacrosse may have poured her into the funnel leading toward education, but obtaining a degree became her goal. She knew education would lead her out of the circumstances unto which she was born.
Jacqueline discovered motivation through her mentors. They encouraged her to be proud of her accomplishments. And she had her mom who inspired her to transform her life. With the desire to make her mother proud, Jacqueline found even more incentive.
Her teachers, coaches, and teammates challenged Jacqueline. They joined in to help her fight for a scholarship. Crediting the coaches and teachers at Tustin High School, Jacqueline realizes, “I’m grateful to have a handful of people who really care about me, and I feel like if I went to a different school, I would not have gotten the opportunities and experiences to help me see what it feels like to be successful.”
By the time she graduated from Tustin High School, Jacqueline had received numerous academic and service award scholarships to the University of Mount Union in Alliance, Ohio. “Lacrosse,” Jacqueline notes, “was just a bonus.”
For the first time in her life Jacqueline left California. Keri accompanied her on a train bound for Alliance, Ohio. They decided to travel by rail so Jacqueline could see more of America. The two celebrated by spending a couple of nights sightseeing before Keri left her student/player in a new place, the next leg of her journey toward success—the University of Mount Union.