Monica Martinez, 43, came to the United States as an 18-year-old, and remembers how difficult it was. "I came to this country in hopes of obtaining a better future for myself and my parents," she said. Since then she has worked hard, learned English and racked up some pretty impressive accomplishments.
"When I first arrived in this country I did not have a job or health insurance, and I did not speak any English at all. My first job was in the kitchen, preparing food at a deli. I worked 10 hours every day, five days a week and made $150.00 a week," she said. "I believe that at this point in my life not speaking English was hard for me; it kept me from progressing and from obtaining better opportunities like a better job."
Not speaking English was a major hurdle for Monica. But like millions of newcomers before, she decided to do something about it. In 1998 she enrolled in the Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School (Carlos Rosario) in Washington, D.C. and began studying English. Carlos Rosario's mission is to "provide education that prepares the diverse adult immigrant population of Washington, D.C. to become invested, productive citizens and members of American society who give back to family and community." The school offers hands-on training programs in high-growth, high-demand industries like culinary arts, healthcare and IT.
Monica describes her time at Carlos Rosario fondly, "I met good friends and went on very educational and interesting field trips that helped me learn English in a fun and interactive way," she said. "I also lost my fear of public speaking, learned about teamwork, helped others, and always gave the best I had to learn."
She learned just enough English to communicate with others. Unfortunately, adequate child care and the challenges of raising two children on her own, caused Monica to put her studies on hold for a few years. "Being a single mother is not easy, especially when you have to deal with a teenage daughter and a son with ADHD at the same time," she said.
Helping her son took up a great deal of her time and energy. "My son had too many problems in school, so I had to spend time with him in school, therapies, and doing homework," Monica said. "In addition to household chores, all these demands took a lot of my time and energy, and of course my priority was to have quality time with my children, but all that did not stop me from pursuing my dreams."
Her daughter, also named Monica, describes what is was like to be raised by such an involved and committed mother, "My mom is an inspiration to me," she said. "She is motivating and powerful. She would stay up late helping us finish school projects and always checked to make sure we did our homework.
"She always tried to do whatever she could to help us succeed, things like attending parent-teacher conferences, and meeting with my brother's teachers to see how she could help him learn. She was always involved. My mother is always willing to try something new; I'm certain she will achieve great things. "Mom's influence for education and improvement is paying off" the younger Monica recently graduated from college.
As her daughter entered high school, and with her son doing better in school, Monica decided to get back to improving her own situation. She completed a GED at the University of the District of Columbia in 2009. The following year, she went back to Carlos Rosario to finish her English language studies. In 2011 she completed ESL " Level 7, the school's most advanced English language program.
Besides being able to speak English more proficiently, Monica had another reason for wanting to improve her language skills. "I wanted to study computer science or something related to computers," she said. In 2012, Monica completed the difficult application process for Carlos Rosario's Computer Support Specialist (CSS) program, but failed to be selected in the school's admission lottery process. Undeterred, she applied again the next year " and made it in.
The CSS program wasn't easy. Lacking a basic background in computers, Monica began to wonder if she had made the right choice. "The first week was hard for me. I noticed that many of my classmates had more knowledge than me, and I felt lost," she said. "I said to myself," Ok, maybe this isn't for me. Maybe I have to look for something else.' But then I also thought that, "I'm strong enough to do whatever I want and there is a no option of giving up.' "
Life is good
Through hard work and diligence, Monica completed the CSS program in 2014, simultaneously earning her CompTIA A+ certification. She admits to being very proud of her IT accomplishments: "I realized that being certified would help me have more job opportunities, and I'm proud of my A+ certification, because I was a single mother with house chores, children to raise, working and studying. I was also the only woman in my class that completed it."
After graduation, Monica worked as an IT support intern at the MedStar Washington Hospital Center, where she gained valuable experience. She is currently working on the help desk of a bilingual educational organization as an independent IT contractor, and enjoys her job. "I like to help people solve their computer problems," she said. "I also like learning new things and socializing with people."
Monica's future plans include a college degree in computer science, as well as completing a Network+ certification, and any other certifications necessary to become a server administrator. She also plans, one day, to fulfill her childhood dream of visiting Greece. "It's a beautiful country and I have always wanted to see it," she said.
As a single mom, Monica is a very busy woman. She does, however, find ways to relax. "I like to go to movies, listen to music while cleaning my house, and dancing," she said. And is there a dance she prefers to any other? "My favorite dance is Salsa, but I'm not very good at it," she said with a big laugh. She also likes to share dinners with her friends and visit the Smithsonian Museums in D.C. Her favorite fictional character is Tweety Bird: "He looks very innocent, but is actually very naughty. I love him."
She also enjoys reading. Her favorite book is Like Water for Chocolate, a novel about a young woman in turn-of-the-century Mexico. The story centers around the kitchen, "the heart and soul of a traditional Mexican family." Monica said she likes how "authentic Mexican recipes are woven into the story."
Monica's favorite movie is Forrest Gump. She said she identifies with the character's persistence in learning how to walk, run and travel the world. "He does lots of interesting and different things and never gives up "just like me."