When Bright Futures student Melissa Cruz speaks, there’s a word she says so frequently it could be considered her personal theme. That word? “More.”
Melissa, a third-year student at Utah Valley University, uses it to describe relationships…
How her favorite teachers at every single Park City school she attended became more than teachers; they grew to be advisors and a support team. How her Bright Futures (BF) coaches, Nicole Blumin and Rebeca Gonzalez, became more than mentors and advisors; they are now counted among her trusted friends.
She uses it to describe how she became empowered by Bright Futures...
How it changed her life and gave her the tools to forge her path: from nearly failing high school and turning it around; to graduating, applying for, and now working her way through college. How she powers toward her future success, guided, she says, by what BF has taught her: how to take the information – those tools – and use them to achieve MORE.
“The thing about Bright Futures is, they’re not saying, here’s a BF scholarship… or here’s money for your college tuition. If I wasn’t in BF, I would have no idea about scholarships, grants, or even FAFSA. They show you what is available, then they help YOU work to earn it.”
Melissa, who joined Bright Futures in 10th grade, had an abrupt awakening when she was dangerously close to failing out of school.
“That was the moment it hit me: I had to turn things around,” Melissa said.
It was then Melissa started reaching for more and credits BF as a huge part of it. Bright Futures provides comprehensive counseling and support to guide first-generation students to and through college (an approximately 7-year commitment). A critical part of BF is cohort support. In fact, that network may be the lifeline that proved strongest for Melissa.
“I was doing so badly! Seeing other peers and school friends succeed, I really wanted to be the one saying, ‘I had this success!’ Seeing them succeed made me want to as well.”
Thanks to that great Bright Futures peer pressure, Melissa went to work…
“She was encouraged by this new set of peers - she absolutely moved into a growth mindset and built a new set of habits and patterns,” said Jennifer O’Brien, Director of Bright Futures Park City. “She had a fantastic turn-around at a critical age!"
Melissa’s turnaround did not go unnoticed. She was awarded a community scholarship for “Most Improved” when she graduated from PCHS in 2019.
“The feeling you have when you say, ‘I worked for this,’ is the best ever. It’s paying off -- and someone didn’t just hand it to you.”
Now, Melissa is well into her third year at UVU. She aims to graduate with a Nursing major and Spanish and Business minors. The latter was added after she started volunteering at Park City’s People’s Health Clinic.
“I initially thought I wanted to work as a nurse in a hospital,” Melissa said. “But in my PHC volunteering, I realized I really like public health. My work shows me there are so many more opportunities - there is so much more to it!”
Melissa’s work would not have been possible without support from a Bright Futures donor. The stipend they provided powered her ability to volunteer at PHC. Support in the form of wage replacement, like stipends, is vital because students dealing with economic challenges typically need to work money-earning jobs. They need to help support themselves and also to contribute to family needs. Many cannot afford to take unpaid internships or volunteer work – which could end up enriching their lives more in the long run.
Even now, Melissa volunteers at the clinic. Her work there is valued, and the feedback from her supervisors to the Bright Futures staff has been “fantastic.” Still, in true Melissa fashion, it appears she wants to do more…
“Now I only go to the clinic twice a week,” she said. “And sometimes it’s half-days.”
This is as she stays on top of her classes and cobbles money-earning opportunities. She sells chocolate-covered strawberries by the dozen and she babysits, and the words she first heard in Bright Futures Summer Academy ring more true than ever.
“They told us ‘you can work hard with your head for 4 years or work hard with your back for the next 40 years - - or more.’”
The idea of back-breaking work to simply break even is not something Melissa wants to do. And, thanks to the support she gets from BF, even now, in her third year at college, she will make sure she won’t have to. A recent trip to the hospital threw that into the spotlight.
“Almost two months ago, I had to go to the ER,” she said. “Even though I was only there for a few hours, I got a $5,000 bill. I was going to school and volunteering, and I had no idea how I was going to pay it.”
Not sure where to start, Melissa checked in with her Bright Futures support team.
“I didn’t ask them for money. I asked them if they had resources. They helped me apply for different relief options and health care applications - I didn’t even know I could get assistance with that!”
Thanks to the connections provided by Bright Futures, Melissa will not be crippled by an unexpected medical bill. Thanks to donors who keep Bright Futures going - Melissa can keep going. She keeps her focus on school and what her version of success will be. She gets to keep working for more.
As she diligently completes her schoolwork, her volunteer duties, and her side jobs, there is just one singular thing, one common denominator, that allows her to build strong relationships, commit to work, and achieve goals on a higher level - and that is the young woman herself.
When you speak to Melissa, there is no doubt she will accomplish whatever she sets her mind to. Thanks to support from Bright Futures, she removes obstacles with her own wit and work. The opportunities are revealed. Her future becomes brighter.
And, when she gets to where she wants to be, she will likely try to figure out how much more it - and she - can become.
DID YOU KNOW?
100% of Bright Futures students spend time volunteering – in high school, college, or both.
As you just read, Melissa Cruz has made volunteering a regular part of her life. As Park City prepares for its 12th year of Live PC Give PC, we know that donors easily recognize that it is more than a day of fundraising - it’s a day to provide a lifeline to these students.
Your generosity ensures every Bright Futures student can achieve their college dream. PCEF needs to raise $150,000 per year to support operations and an additional $200,000 for scholarships and tuition assistance.