When Jessica Avelar was only seven years old and living with her family in Elgin, Texas, she and her sister looked for a missing purple-dyed Easter chick. Sadly, they discovered its lifeless body under the family house, and when they went to retrieve it, Jessica’s sister was bitten by the rattlesnake who had stolen the chick. However, as her sister recuperated at Brackenridge Hospital, Jessica was struck by the kindness and caring of the nurses she encountered.
That event marked the moment when a dream of becoming a nurse was “hatched.” Jessica remembers insisting on being the nurse in any role-playing games that she and her four siblings created — whether or not it made sense to have a nurse in the story.
A Dream Deferred
Fast forward to high school. Having survived a difficult childhood, Jessica still nurtured a dream of becoming a nurse, but she never believed that she “could get through the program or afford to go to school.” Unfortunately, the dream slipped a little further from her grasp when, in 2000, the now 21-year-old found herself in an abusive relationship, without skills and with three small children of her own to support.
Realizing that she needed to take steps to establish her financial independence so she could leave this relationship, Jessica enrolled in a technical school to become a medical assistant. The dream of being a nurse had to go on the back burner, but she reasoned that she could support her family and stay in the medical field with this program.
After graduating from this program, Jessica worked for many years at area dialysis centers. When she met her husband, Delfino, several years after leaving her children’s father, she shared her dream of becoming a nurse with him. Ever supportive, Delfino asked, “so why don’t you do it?” However, she had just finished paying off her loan from the medical assistant program, and the thought of more debt was just too daunting.
Back on the Right Path
While visiting a close friend in the hospital, one of his nurses told Jessica about Capital IDEA. This non-profit would provide a full scholarship to a nursing program at Austin Community College, including tuition, books, and supplies. Capital IDEA’s mission is to provide “financial support and extensive professional guidance to motivated, non-traditional students who want to earn more and move up in a great career.” Although Jessica believed it “sounded too good to be true,” she went to an orientation meeting that month and followed through with all the required steps. In 2007, at age 27, she started her college prep courses at ACC with a “weekend cohort” of 12 women who could work during the week and attend school on weekends. At the time, she was also working full-time as a patient safety assistant at Seton Hospital.
Unfortunately, the weekend cohort program fell apart. As the stress of working, raising a family, and attending classes were just too much, Jessica gave up. She recalls thinking, remorsefully, “I was done.”
But her Capital IDEA Career Navigator kept checking in and encouraged her to go back to school and finish what she started. Finally, she agreed to enroll in a Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) program, which she completed in May 2013. Proud of her degree, she looked forward to a job as an LVN but soon discovered that the only available jobs had awful workloads and paid less than she was currently making at Seton. Jessica remembers feeling overwhelmingly frustrated. “I can’t do this again. I had wasted my time all these years, and it killed my confidence.” So after this second setback, she drifted away from education.
The Dream Reignited
Two years later, Capital IDEA got back in touch with a generous offer. Typically the program covers only one degree, but since the weekend cohort fell apart despite her best efforts, if she returned to ACC immediately, it would pay her expenses in the nursing program.
With her husband’s encouragement, she returned to ACC in 2015 to finish her prerequisites and retake some expired nursing courses. Then, in January 2017, she began the nursing program, all the while juggling a full-time job and two young kids at home.
Recognizing Jessica’s challenges, her Capital IDEA Career Navigator nominated Jessica for a scholarship from The Dream Come True Foundation (DCTF). The deadline was IMMEDIATE, so Jessica stayed up that night and got the application in on time.
After reviewing her essay and meeting Jessica, DCTF provided her with a generous monthly stipend for her last two semesters. Jessica recalls, “I barely made it through the first two semesters because I had to work so many hours to make ends meet. But, with the DCTF stipend, I could cut down my hours to part-time. It helped SO much.”
DCTF Mentors: Guiding the Way for Dream Achievers
DCTF assigned Sara Shannon as Jessica’s mentor, and in her opinion, it was a “perfect relationship.” A nurse at Seton Southwest, Sara was accommodating with Jessica’s coursework by sharing old notes, answering any questions, and being readily available to help her along the way.
“She always knew what to say,” recalls Jessica. “My husband is wonderful, very supportive – but he has to be nice! It helps when you have someone on the outside supporting you, encouraging you, and who knows just what to say.”
The Dream Fulfilled
In December 2018, at age 38, Jessica graduated from the nursing program. She was the first in her family to graduate from college. “Walking across the stage felt like a dream. It was a beautiful feeling. I never thought I would be doing this.”
Since then, she has taken a short break to focus on her newborn baby – who entered the scene just one month before graduation, and she will take the NCLEX nursing board exam this summer.
Lessons from the Journey
It’s been a long hard haul trudging through 17 years of on-again and off-again education.
Most would have given up and not have the confidence to keep on pursuing a dream after so many setbacks. So why didn’t Jessica give up? “I always tell my kids when they’re having troubles that giving up is not an option and to take it “un dia a la vez” (one day at a time!). So when I was down, my eldest adult daughter admonished me with, ‘Really? Mom, what do you always tell us: giving up is not an option.’ I just couldn’t let my family down.”
With Sara and DCTF’s support, Jessica is confident that she will succeed with the NCLEX exam and finally be on her way to a satisfying career as a Registered Nurse.
“Dreams do come true,” Jessica adds. “I am the registered nurse I always dreamt I would be. I pray I will be a NICU nurse soon and continue my education for a bachelor’s degree soon.”
And with all the steps she has taken to break the bonds of poverty, we know that Jessica will achieve her dreams.