Meet Free Minds Student Lorena Elias

Lorena Elias is a Community Worker with the Austin Health and Human Services Department. She learned about Free Minds from a flyer her 9-year-old son, Miguel, brought home from UT Elementary School. Of all the texts she’s read in class so far, her favorite is A Midsummer Night’s Dream–not surprising, as she loves theater and will be performing in a Spanish-language production of The Vagina Monologues this spring.

I have a mentor, Elizabeth Gray. I met her two years after arriving in Austin, because they needed a babysitter. I didn’t have a job back then. I was about 18 years old. I worked with them for close to five years. Ever since day one, Elizabeth was involved in my education. Every morning she’d leave little notes of encouragement, and she helped me register at ACC so I could get my GED. She got together with me on weekends and helped me with reading and writing.

When I got pregnant with my daughter Sofia, I stopped college. One week before I got the Free Minds flyer, Elizabeth encouraged me to improve my reading and vocabulary skills. I had told her that in my position at work, in order to move up, I need to get a degree and go to college. As soon as I got the flyer, I read it through and started thinking, yes, yes, yes, that’s me.

Free Minds opened a door that you only encounter once in a lifetime. I want my kids to see me educate myself, pursue higher education, and that’s a motivation for me, so we can learn together and teach each other. Miguel is in third grade, and he was coming home with assignments asking, “What’s the point of view of this paragraph? Who’s the speaker?” and I couldn’t help him. But now I can. And it’s amazing that I’m gaining these skills without noticing.

My kids love the Camp Fire program. Sofia is 4, the youngest of the whole group. One day she raised her hand and volunteered to go to the front of the room and sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” and she was so excited when everyone clapped for her. I’m lucky to have the kids the ages they are, because if they were younger I wouldn’t be able to bring them. They’re the perfect age, this is the perfect time, and we’re the perfect family for Free Minds.

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