Spotlight | Student gives back while overcoming her own challenges

Vanessa Mena – Conejo Valley High School

Vanessa Mena – Conejo Valley High School

Vanessa Mena’s path to high school graduation hasn’t been an easy one. The daughter of a single mother, she struggled academically at Thousand Oaks High School. To get back on track, she made the difficult decision during her senior year to transfer to the local alternative school, Conejo Valley High School. It turned out to be the right choice. “There were smaller classes and the teachers really helped me out,” she says. With their support, she was able to earn her high school diploma.

At the same time she was dealing with her own difficulties, Vanessa was selflessly giving back to the community. For more than two years, she has volunteered at the Westminster Free Clinic in Thousand Oaks, which provides a health care safety net to the uninsured.

She says the clinic’s program that provides toys to kids from low-income families during the holidays really hit home. It reminded her of the time her mom lost her job right around Christmas. Unable to afford gifts, her mom drove her to see the Christmas lights of nearby homes. “Through the window, we could see a big family around the table with grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, daughters, sons and the parents all in the same room eating together,” she remembers. “All I wanted was to have a big family all together in a beautiful home one day. And after driving around all night, we went to McDonald’s and got Happy Meals.”

Vanessa is now on her way to making her dreams come true. She’ll be taking adult school classes in Thousand Oaks and plans to attend college in Washington state, where her grandparents live. Her goal is to become an emergency medical technician and ultimately a paramedic.

Her greatest motivation to graduate from college is her mom, who emigrated from El Salvador to build a better life for her children. “Since she didn’t get her education, she sometimes feels less about herself and I don’t want her to feel that way,” Vanessa says. “I just want to make her happy so she can feel that she did something and I want to graduate for both of us.”

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One Response to Spotlight | Student gives back while overcoming her own challenges

  1. Miguel Espinosa June 11, 2018 at 6:45 am

    It is individuals like Vanessa, that really matter in this world. Their purpose is to do good in this world where so many of us really don’t cae or don’t care enough. I hope, Vanessa, not only becomes a medical technician and paramedic, but find the energy to become a doctor, someday. She would be an ideal heal the provider, having experienced the need through her personal experience. I wish her all the success in the world and hope she will provide a model to others like herself.


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