Student gives back with gratitude, cash

  • Jennifer Aaby<br>Enterprise writer
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 6:49am

After reaping the benefits of community groups’ scholarship generosity, 20-year-old Yuliana Montes is sowing the scholarship seed back into a community that supported her throughout her schooling.

Montes, a 2002 graduate of Lynnwood High, created a $1,500 scholarship that was open to all English-as-a-second-language, learning-support and special-needs students.

“That’s her passion,” said Vicky Hopper, Lynnwood High career specialist. “Her passion is helping people.”

For Montes, finishing school and attending college didn’t come easily. As one of 14 children in her family, supporting one another took precedence.

“I worked pretty hard,” Montes said. Throughout high school, she worked about 30 hours a week, and all of the money went to help support her family.

When Montes, her mother and seven siblings moved to Lynnwood from South Central Los Angeles, she was about to enter ninth grade and wasn’t completely focused on her education.

Attending Lynnwood was nothing like going to school in South Central, she said, where classes had upwards of 40 students and it was easy to lose focus and interest. But at Lynnwood, she was given the encouragement she needed, and she did not give up.

Montes’ biggest cheerleaders, whom she dubbed “the three amigas,” include Hopper, assistant principal Carmela Morelli and counselor Debbie McGahan.

“They gave me so much,” Montes said.

It was with their guidance and encouragement that Montes was able to finish high school with good grades and big plans for her future.

While she hoped to become a massage therapist, finishing high school, let alone college, was not common in her family. Montes was the second child to graduate, yet she was the ninth of the 14 children.

“I was the first girl in my family to graduate from high school,” Montes said, including not only her immediate siblings but also cousins and extended family.

She knew she would not be able to afford college without outside help. So with the assistance of Lynnwood High’s staff, she applied for numerous scholarships, and ultimately received about $13,000 in support. That’s enough money to attend a two-year program at Ashmead College in Everett, including tuition, books, supplies and a tutor.

Now Montes works at the Community Health Center in Lynnwood, helping patients and interpreting for Spanish speakers. She does massage therapy on the side, and she hopes to someday return to school to become a chiropractor.

Montes decided to set up the scholarship earlier this year to support a student who might not otherwise apply for scholarships or even attend college. She said she wanted to give others encouragement.

“I really wanted to give back what they gave me,” Montes said.

She said she knows there are scholarships out there for just about anyone willing to apply. They just need to go for it, she said.

Hopper said Montes is an excellent example of what you can do when you put your heart into something.

“Just to see where she’s come from and what she’s accomplished — it’s just great,” Hopper said.

The $1,500 scholarship is going to recent graduate Megan Wilbourne, who plans to attend technical college in the fall.

Hopper said Montes has a lot of enthusiasm and passion, so it’s not surprising that she accomplished her goal and has now turned it around to offer support to others. Montes plans on providing another scholarship next year.

McGahan said she was surprised when Montes approached them with her idea of offering a scholarship.

“Talk about a random act of kindness,” McGahan said. “She just came and said she wanted to do this.”

McGahan and Hopper do not doubt Montes’ ability to succeed in life.

“She’s going to be a very successful person, just because she has the spirit, and the kindness and the drive,” Hopper said. “Nothing can stand in her way.”

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