First generation alumni gives back to Latino youth

Alumni Spotlight

First generation alumni gives back to Latino youth

Shanice Davis, Features Editor


Last spring, Jalena Montenegro finally ended her chapter at CSUSM when she walked across the stage to accept her degree, making her the first person in her family to accomplish the milestone of graduating with a college degree.

Montenegro graduated with her Bachelor’s degree in Human Development with an emphasis in Children’s Services.

While on campus, she was actively involved in organizations including the Human Development Club, the Priority Christian Challenge and was a member of the Kappa Omicron Nu Nu Upsilon Chapter.

Now, that she’s officially done with school, Montenegro said how much more relaxing life is.

“I have more time to do things I would like to do for myself, whereas before that time was dedicated to studying and my school work,” said Montenegro.

Currently, she is not pursuing her graduate degree but intends on attending USC for their Masters of Social Work Program.

However, Montenegro does work for a non-profit organization called Project Recreation, Employment readiness, Academic achievements, Communication skills and Healthy lifestyles (REACH) which is an afterschool program for at-risk youth.

Project REACH is a safe haven for students where healthy meals, school supplies, and educational fieldtrips are provided, and positive role models keep track of each student’s educational progress. In addition to that, REACH also provides students with workshops that educate them on how to life a healthier lifestyle, such as STD/pregnancy prevention, drugs/alcohol prevention and communication skills.

“I did my internship which was part of service learning class I had to take fall 2014. After my hours were completed, I decided to continue as a volunteer for several months and eventually applied for an opening position as a tutorial assistant,” said Montenegro.

Part of being a tutorial assistant consists of helping student between ages of 12 to 19 with homework, projects, applying for jobs/colleges or personal issues they may face at home or within their neighborhood.

“The students that are being served live in locations where gang violence is highly present and have experienced being a victim of it or have lost friends to it. They live in low income communities and lack resources that others in a higher economic status do not, that’s where we step in,” said Montenegro.

Even though Montenegro is taking a break from academia, in the end, she hopes to have a Master’s degree and participate in meaningful work.

“In the next five to ten years, I see myself holding a Master’s degree in social work and being a professional in a career related to serving others as a clinical social worker.”

“I would like to work with disadvantaged populations and learn more about ways I can help improve the life of others. I also plan on having a family, hopefully more than 2 children with my husband and enjoying life as a mother and wife,” said Montenegro.

Given that Montenegro is a Latina woman and the first to graduate from her family, her educational degree is critical to her as both a woman and as a person of color in society.

“I feel that as a Latina, we have a responsibility to pave the way for other Latina girls and show them that they can accomplish their dreams and overcome any challenges that come their way.”

“Education is key to helping yourself and your family, and with that perseverance, it can be the change that is much needed in our communities,” said Montenegro.

But being Latina is not only about family and educational growth, but about having a sense of what it means to be resilient.

“It means to be strong, strong enough to overcome the stereotypes that society holds about young Latinos. Also, strong enough to overcome the obstacles and challenges that are common within the Latino community.”