We are giving away a copy of Living Life as a Thank You: The Transformative Power of Daily Gratitude, by Nina Lesowitz and Mary Beth Sammons. Check out this story of gratitude from the book, and then leave a comment for a chance to win your own copy of this book!
Achieving the American Dream
An Excerpt from Living Life as a Thank You: The Transformative Power of Daily Gratitude, by Nina Lesowitz and Mary Beth Sammons
Not knowing when the dawn will come, I open every door.
— Emily Dickinson
José Ayllon, a native of Toluca, México, grew up the second to youngest of 10 children. To support his children, José’s dad went to the United States to work and send money back. At 14, José moved six hours away to live with an elder sibling in Guanajato. He was seeking independence and tried to juggle high school and working full-time. It didn’t work, and José ended up dropping out of school.
Two years later, his father phoned asking his son to move to the United States. So at 16, José and two of his older sisters joined their father in Pennsylvania.
“The plan was to work together for a few months and save some money so my mom and little brother could come here as well so we could all live together,” says José. “When I was making my decision about coming to the U.S., I thought about everything except the language barrier. Not knowing the language made things extremely difficult for me. I could not find a job, because most of the jobs I applied for required some level of English.”
His father kept urging José to return to school. But José had other plans, and instead went to work at a mushroom farm, working every day from 4:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.
His dad persisted on the education campaign front. “My dad did not seem very happy with my decision and kept encouraging me to go to school,” José says.
Sadly, about four months after José and his sisters moved in with their father, their dad was critically injured in a car accident and died two weeks later.
“My life lost direction when that happened,” José says. “I had no idea where to start and how to start. We ended up going back to Mexico to bury my dad. Once the family gathered together, we decided to come back to the U.S. with my mom, my younger brother, two of my older brothers and their families, and two of my sisters.”
Back in the U.S., José heeded his father’s advice and started high school as a sophomore.
“I knew that learning the language was going to be one of the biggest challenges. I was very lucky to have excellent teachers of English as a second language. They were always encouraging me to perform to the best of my ability. Thanks to their help and with a lot of hard work, within a year I had learned the language.”
José’s teachers encouraged him to become part of a leadership group representing his high school. José and a team of four students attended a conference in Pennsylvania, with the challenge to create a plan for their community. The group decided to focus on improving culture awareness. Despite his struggle with the English language, José came up with the project’s title: P.E.A.C.E. UNION, which stands for “people enthusiastic about cultural equality.”
The project focused on creating language exchange classes, which the team called “Intercambio classes.”
The group held the classes once a week after school for the large Spanish-speaking population. “Our project was a huge success,” José enthuses. “Within a few months we decided to extend the program to our community in general. Once again, in our community it proved to be a success as well and is still in place today. This wonderful project won us first place statewide. That program really made a difference in my life. I suddenly realized that when you really want something and you work to achieve it, anything is possible.”
José got into the giving-back aspect of the project and found himself finding numerous ways to become involved in his community. He worked with the Migrant Education Program as a summer teacher’s assistant, helping students from Mexico who have just arrived in the United States.
“I felt proud to be able to help students that were in the same position I was once in,” he says. He also worked at the Garage Youth Center as a tutor and mentor for high school students. “However, as graduation got closer and closer, I was not sure if I was going to be able to pursue my dream to attend Marywood University. My financial situation was not the best. I had to apply for a lot of different scholarships in order to be able to attend.”
Today, he is a senior at Marywood and is determined to graduate and pursue a career that makes a difference in others’ lives. He knows his dad would be smiling at his myriad activities—the Dean’s List every semester, the Diversity United International Club, the World Language Club, the ACT 101 program; the Chi Alpha Epsilon honor society, tutoring, and serving as master of ceremonies for a leadership breakfast.
“I am very proud of everything I have achieved and I am very thankful for all the help I have received throughout all this time,” says José. “I now look back and I see my younger brother, nephews, and nieces extremely motivated about pursuing a higher education. One of my nephews is now a junior at Indiana University of Pennsylvania; my niece is a sophomore at Villanova; and my younger brother is a freshman at Penn State University. The rest of my nephews and nieces are mostly in high school and they, as well, are very interested about pursuing a college career. I feel very proud to see that, thanks to the things I have been able to accomplish, they have seen that it is possible to achieve a goal, when you work for it to make it come true.”
“I am very proud to know that I am an inspiration to my family members, just as my parents and the rest of my family have been my inspiration to succeed,” he adds.
What’s next? José is considering becoming a lawyer or studying for an MBA. Money continues to be a challenge, but he is approaching this with a spirit of gratitude for what will be his next dream come true.
These days he is very grateful to the William G. McGowan scholarship fund, which is paying for one year of José’s business school education. The funds are requested by the university and the money granted to that college, which must have an accredited business school. The business school faculty judges the essays and chooses the student to receive the scholarship based on their essays and financial need. The funds are used by the university for the winning student, either for their senior year as a business major or for a year in a business master’s program.
José was selected because his presentation to the business faculty was the most impressive and promising.
“I applied for this scholarship and a few months later I received a letter congratulating me for winning,” he says. “That moment and that call changed my life and my future completely. This academic year I have been able to fully focus on my studies without having to constantly worry about my financial situation. Today I still do not have enough words to thank everyone involved in this wonderful fund, for changing my life and my future the way they did. All I can say is that it has been an honor to be the recipient of such a prestigious award.”
MARY BETH SAMMONS is an award-winning journalist and author. She writes about those who are experiencing the ups and downs of handling life, parenting, and care-giving in Family Circle and the Chicago Tribune’s lifestyle section. She is also the author of We Carry Each Other: Getting Through Life’s Toughest Times; My Family: Collected Memories; and Gifts with Heart. She lives in the Chicago suburbs with her children.
NINA LESOWITZ is a gratitude practitioner in the San Francisco Bay Area. A volunteer for literacy organizations, she also runs Spinergy Group, which represents authors and corporate clients as well as non-profits. Nina is co-author of the bestselling title The Party Girl Cookbook.
Excerpted from the book Living Life as a Thank You: The Transformative Power of Daily Gratitude © 2009 by Nina Lesowitz and Mary Beth Sammons. Printed with permission from Viva Editions.
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