The scholarship will help the youngest of 12 head towards Univ. from iowa

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) — The youngest of 12 children and the only American-born sister, Crystal Luna knew she had to make the most of every opportunity presented to her.

Not only was Luna’s family dependent on her, but she also wanted to live her own version of the American dream.

On April 28, the future 18-year-old North High School graduate received a $40,000 scholarship from the Kind World Foundation. This is the highest cash post-secondary award the local non-profit group gives out each year.

“Receiving this scholarship means so much to me,” Luna explained. “It means all my hard work was worth it.”

Since 2009, the Kind World Foundation, founded by former Gateway executive Norm Waitt Jr., has awarded more than $3 million to hundreds of high school students at eight metropolitan high schools: Sioux City East, North, West, and Bishop Heelan; the town of Southern Sioux; Dakota Valley; Sergeant Bluff-Luton; and Elk Point-Jefferson.

Luna plans to use her scholarship to study Spanish and international business at the University of Iowa, Iowa City. After that, she wants to go to law school, specializing in immigration law.

“Crystal had to mature at a very young age, has been through so much personally, and always wants to help others,” explained Marcia Waitt, chair of Kind World Foundation’s scholarship and education program. “Our program was created specifically for deserving students like Crystal.”

Luna learned a strong work ethic from her mother Yolanda Nava who herself had to leave school after fifth grade.

“My mom worked on the family farm in Mexico before she came to America,” Luna said. “My parents divorced when I was five, and life just got harder.”

Indeed, Luna spent many years living in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment with her 11 siblings.

“Most of us kids slept on the floor,” she recalls. “I felt like a princess the year I got a new Care Bear blanket.”

Yet Luna’s mother worked 16 hour days to ensure her family had a roof over their heads and food on the table.

“When mom went to work, my older sister took care of me,” Luna said. “Plus, I became self-sufficient.”

It was often difficult for Luna, who didn’t feel safe because of her accent.

“Half of my family only spoke Spanish while the other half spoke both Spanish and English,” she said. “It was awkward.”

Soon the pressure got to Luna.

“I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression when I was 12,” she said. “My family didn’t understand mental illness, so I supervised my medication and found my own way to therapy.”

In fact, the only place Luna felt comfortable was at school.

“I loved school because I loved learning,” she said.

It was also a place where Luna would receive positive reinforcement for her studies.

“At school, I was the girl who always smiled with her nose stuck in a book,” Luna said.

Yet she knew that very few people understood the struggles of a first-generation student.

“Neither my mom nor my dad spoke English,” Luna said. “They didn’t know anything about college savings accounts or construction credit. When you don’t speak the language, everything seems intimidating and out of reach.

That’s why she became involved with Briar Cliff University’s TRIO Student Support Services, a program funded by the U.S. Department of Education that serves and advocates for first-generation students who were often under -represented in higher education.

“TRIO made me think about the college years before I could go,” she said. “It made me want to plan for the future.”

However, sometimes life can make you lose your mind. It happened last year when Luna’s father died suddenly.

“Losing a parent is horrible,” she said. “Something like that can put you off schoolwork or everyday life. But I wouldn’t let that happen to me.

Instead, Luna focused on her work with North High School’s student council and the National Honors Society, while becoming an Honorary Student 4.0.

“When you’re born to immigrant parents, you often have to work harder to get ahead,” she said. “You want to become a model.”

Luna is still emotional more than a week after being selected for the Kind World Foundation scholarship.

“It was so moving and so encouraging for me,” she said.

Luna’s mother, Yolanda Nava, encouraged her every step of the way.

“My mom was so happy and that made me happy,” Luna said.

Thinking for a moment, Luna remembered feeling bad about her own accent.

“Now I’m so proud of my accent because it signifies my challenges in learning a new language,” she explained. “Everything I’ve been through has made me stronger and made me the person I am today.”

As she looks to the future, Luna has some advice for first-generation students like her.

“Work hard, study hard, get involved in your community and never stop learning,” she said with a smile. “That way you can create your own American Dream.”

Comments are closed.