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Paying it Forward, by Elizabeth Castillo

The first of six daughters to attend college.

*Elizabeth Castillo, Homecoming Queen, Class of 1992, with parents, Abel and Maria Rosales.

When my sister Olga asked me to describe finding my way to college after high school, I didn’t want to talk about our disadvantages. Her own story, Demolition and Spring Break, is a story I loved reading, but one that I don’t exactly remember. Today, I’d like to talk about why I wanted to start this scholarship and what it means to me.

This is a story about the help I received in order to become the first person in our family to attend college. Many inspiring stories of first-generation students who overcame obstacles were made possible by the angels who came into our lives, and those stories are worth telling.

My angel’s name is Tomasita Villarreal, and she was my Spanish teacher at Aptos High School. I remember her for so many reasons, but mainly because I wasn’t the only student who she helped. Her office was always filled with students who looked and talked like me—students from Watsonville who spoke Spang-lish and dressed like Fly-girls. Not only did she help me apply to San Jose State University, but she helped me fill out the infamous FAFSA forms. She was the first person to describe dorm life to me and definitely the first person to tell me that such an experience was attainable.

The Rosales Sisters' Scholarship is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, tax ID #87-1608363. Donate today! 

She often spoke about the disadvantages that minorities face. She said things like “College is the best time of your life, but unfortunately, not everyone gets to go.” Additionally, she helped me write a paper that garnered a private donation from a stranger in Soquel. None of these things would have happened if she hadn’t been inspired to help Latinx students attending a homogenous school like Aptos High.

*Elizabeth Castillo Cinco De Mayo Queen, with John Walsh Cinco De Mayo King, Class of 1992.

One of the reasons that I am sure she was so keen on helping was that my sisters and I were part of the first set of students from Watsonville to attend Aptos High, after the Pajaro Valley Unified School District redefined its boundaries. This meant that we were destined for Aptos High rather than Watsonville High.

To say that being one of the first minority groups at Aptos High was challenging is an understatement. Because of this, when I think about Mrs. Villarreal and her impact on me as a teenager, I well up with tears. She didn’t have to help—she could have easily taught me how to read and write in Spanish appropriately and been on her way. She definitely didn’t have to set up a career day and encourage me to wear a suit to it—my first suit of many. She didn’t have to do any of it, but she did. She went the extra mile for all of the students who spent that extra time in her office. She held court for so many of us who didn’t know how to reach a dream our parents had no idea how to talk to us about.

*Awards ceremony from 2019. The inaugural The Rosales Sisters' Scholarship.

When my sisters and I discussed this scholarship and its importance, the first person I thought of was Mrs. Villarreal. The second person was that stranger in Soquel. When my mother drove me to pick up the check from this private citizen, I remember asking my mom why he’d given the money. She said Todavía hay mucha buena gente en el mundo”: There are still good people in this world. This man, just like Mrs. Villarreal, did not have to give his own time or money. I remember that he was in a wheelchair and that when he handed me the check, he was smiling from ear to ear. It wasn’t much, but it helped cover books and supplies for two classes during my first semester at SJSU, and I was as grateful then as I am now. More important than money, what these two individuals did was make me feel supported. I didn’t feel so alone when I approached my first day at SJSU.

Today, I am fortunate enough to be able to give back. I am filled with joy when I think about the students our scholarship aims to help, students who need financial assistance more than most when it comes to fulfilling a college dream.

Please join us in this effort. Our goal is to raise $32,000 for the graduating students on the central coast of California. As part of this effort, our Annual Online Auction will start on 3/1/2022. Join us! Please subscribe to this blog or follow us online for more information.

You can donate to our fund directly here. The Rosales Sisters' Scholarship is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, tax ID #87-1608363. Donate today!

*Olga Rosales Salinas, and Elizabeth Castillo with Aptos High School Principal Peggy Pughe.


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