It was an emotional event, the celebration of Gabriela and Alejandra Ruiz’s college graduation on June 17th. A June 25th reception hosted by Chelan Valley Hope recognized their successes while remembering difficulties they had overcome. Listening to their story brought tears to just about everyone’s eyes.
Not all immigrants are driven to get an education, but Antonio Ruiz wanted his children to go to college. He wanted that because he wanted them to have a better life than his. An orchard worker, he wanted to learn too; he had his children teach him what they were learning in school and would ask them, “How can I use this?” He taught them to put all their efforts into their schoolwork. The girls worked with him occasionally in the orchard, and Ale remembers thinking, “I don’t want to do this for the rest of my life!”
Sadly, Antonio wasn’t at the Cheney graduation to see his daughters graduate because he died suddenly from a heart attack in 2014 at age 51. Nor was the eldest Ruiz child, Maria–she was killed in an auto accident in 2015. But, despite the deaths of those two people who were their main encouragers, the girls decided to figure out how to get their college degrees.
Many people stepped forward to assist; some had already helped, beginning when the girls started elementary school in Chelan, after moving here from Morelia, Mexico. Their first year at MOE was difficult because, as Alejandra said, they felt lost. But teachers, neighbors, and Mr. Ruiz’s employers all helped the family, in several ways. After Antonio died, Chelan Valley Hope provided guidance, WHAT ELSE? Part of Chelan Valley Hope’s mission is “empowering people to improve their lives,” and the Ruiz girls needed help in achieving their goals.
Through Chelan Valley Hope, a community volunteer gave the girls a short course on finances and budgets. He taught them the differences between needs, wants and wishes and how to use an envelope system as a budget tool. They used it and say that it really helped. “So many people helped,” they said repeatedly. And not just Hope.
Dad was their strongest advocate, their encourager. When he died, and then Maria, the sisters wondered who would help their mother. Mom doesn’t drive. But they told themselves, “We have to do this [go to college], to show that it is possible.” So they worked, sometimes two jobs each, to pay the bills. They started at Wenatchee Valley College. They worked and went to classes. Then when they got home at night, they did their homework, wrote papers, and read the assignments. There was no Wi-Fi or Internet connection at their house, so sometimes they would work at the library, and then go to Starbucks till closing.
The girls were awarded scholarships to Eastern, and Chelan Valley Hope, along with some Christian community members helped pay their housing costs. They graduated with degrees in Children’s Studies, an interdisciplinary degree. Both have new jobs; Ale is working at Lake Chelan Community Hospital in the billing department, and Gabi is a human resource associate at Blue Bird Inc. in Wenatchee. They are grateful and humble for all the many different people who helped them. “Our degree is your degree,” is what Gabi said. “All the people who believed in us mean a lot.”
The sisters brought their decorated graduation caps to a small reception in their honor at Chelan Valley Hope. Gabi’s cap says “As Promised,” reflecting her promise to her dad, her sister and herself. Ale’s says, “Born to Make History” because they are the first in their family to graduate from college.
As stated on its webpage, Chelan Valley Hope “provides assistance, advocacy and referrals to under-resourced families and individuals throughout the greater Chelan Valley.” That is exactly what CVH did for the Ruiz family, and isn’t it wonderful to be able to celebrate the success!