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Meet Mariel, First Generation College Graduate

At Reality Changers, the results speak for themselves. Program participants are the embodiment of resilience, determination, and academic excellence. These first-generation college graduates inspire our work – they fuel our dedication to empowering future generations through education. Mariel (‘09) is one such success story. Her journey from middle school student to Reality Changers staff member reminds us of the transformative impact of our program and the unlimited potential within each student we serve.

Mariel’s story underscores the transformative nature of our program. Our assistance and mentorship offerings help students gain access to higher education and create a ripple effect of positive change throughout the community. Participants like Mariel inspire us to keep going and to empower future generations with dreams of college degrees.

Early Years at Reality Changers

Mariel attended the church where Reality Changers founder Christopher Yanov initially began the program. “I would see the students and remember the Reality Changers blue t-shirts,” she recalls, “I grew up wanting to be a part of the program.” By the eighth grade, Mariel had the opportunity to join Reality Changers.

Getting involved in Reality Changers early in one’s academic career can make a huge impact. Students as young as 12 can begin working towards becoming first-generation college graduates. Our College Town program serves 8th through 11th graders. Each evening, participants gather to partake in a blend of learning, socializing, communal meals, and homework assistance. Our dedicated coaches guide students in setting personal objectives and regularly monitor their progress, while tutors provide invaluable support in addressing homework queries and exam preparation.

Navigating Higher Education

Despite knowing that higher education was the path for her, Mariel, like many first-generation students, lacked the knowledge of earning a degree. “My parents didn’t know what the process was like besides [knowing that] there are colleges,” she says, “But they didn’t know what that meant.”

This, however, didn’t dissuade her from knowing her path and wanting to pursue it. With the help of Reality Changers, she was able to inform herself of the process.

“Reality Changers really helped me navigate that whole application process. They helped me decide where I wanted to go [to] school, what would be a good fit, what I want to study.”

The support Mariel received from Reality Changers extended far beyond basic guidance. Our organization helps to demystify the intricacies of college applications and assist her in identifying suitable educational institutions and academic programs. Success stories of students highlight the impact of our efforts.

While Mariel’s success is her own, she’ll be the first to tell you how Reality Changers played a pivotal role in shaping her academic journey. Personalized mentorship and targeted resources empowered Mariel to make informed decisions about her academic future and instill the confidence to pursue her aspirations despite the unfamiliar terrain.

Challenges as a Dreamer

Mariel’s status as a dreamer and lack of knowledge placed barriers to higher education. Uncertainty loomed over how her immigration status would impact her college application process and her prospects for attending and financing her education. As Mariel shared, “It wasn’t just like, apply to college right? There were so many layers to being able to access that, even past getting accepted to college.”

Fortunately, Mariel found a supportive network within Reality Changers, where alumni and staff members who had faced similar challenges offered invaluable guidance and encouragement. Despite the hurdles, Mariel’s perseverance paid off. In 2014, she proudly graduated from the University of California, San Diego, earning her bachelor’s degree in Psychology. Her achievement is a testament to her resilience and determination in overcoming obstacles and realizing her educational goals. Now, she’s become one of the many Reality Changers motivational success stories for students.

Professional Growth

When Mariel graduated from college, she was offered a position with Reality Changers as a Program Assistant, marking the beginning of her professional journey with the organization. Since then, she has ascended to become Reality Changers’ Associate Director of Research and Evaluation – a testament to her dedication and leadership.

Reflecting on the growth of Reality Changers, Mariel acknowledges the remarkable evolution she has witnessed firsthand. From initially serving a modest class size of about 20 students, the organization has expanded its reach exponentially, catering to more than 1,500 individuals annually. Mariel’s journey exemplifies her personal growth and the organization’s commitment to empowering future first-generation college graduates.

The Impact of Reality Changers

The impact Reality Changers has made on the lives of first-generation students has been recognized across San Diego and the nation and across the border in Mexico. For Mariel, the program has impacted her life, the lives of her family and siblings who joined the program, and the students she has helped as a staff member.

As a dedicated staff member, Mariel has had the privilege of witnessing firsthand the ripple effect of empowerment as she assists students in unlocking their potential and pursuing their academic dreams. Through collective effort and unwavering commitment, Reality Changers continues to sow seeds of opportunity and inspire future generations.

Mariel’s Message to Donors

For all those who have donated or are considering donating to Reality Changers, Mariel wants to share this:

“Whatever support [you] give Reality Changers isn’t just going to impact a moment in time. It’s going to ripple out to future generations and future communities. Our students go everywhere. They spread what they learned at Reality Changers to their communities, their families, and their future generations. It’s going to ripple out, and there is only room to grow from here.”

Your contribution isn’t just an investment in individual lives; it’s a catalyst for transformative change that will reverberate for years to come. With your support, the potential for growth and positive impact knows no bounds.

Get Involved Today

Your involvement with Reality Changers has the power to make a lasting difference in the lives of countless first-generation college students. Whether you volunteer your time, donate resources, or spread awareness about our mission, every action contributes to the transformative journey of students like Mariel.

By joining our community of supporters, you become an integral part of our efforts to empower future generations through education. Together, we can continue to break down barriers, cultivate opportunities, and inspire positive change that extends far beyond the confines of the classroom.

Join us in our commitment to building a brighter future for all. Get involved with Reality Changers today and help us create a world where every student has the chance to fulfill their potential and achieve their dreams.

This profile was written by Reality Changers graduate and Storytelling Intern Sophia (‘19). 


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