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A Chain Reaction

When I walked in to interview for my first real, professional, post-college job, the words of my elementary school principal stuck in my head: “A weak handshake is the first thing an employer sees about how you present yourself. Give eye contact, be firm, and be confident.” Little did my principal, Mr. Smith, or I know that one day I would use that advice to shake the hand of my former third grade teacher and land a job back at my elementary school  – Rocketship Public Schools.

My name is Evelyn Rojas and I am the proud CareCorps Coordinator at Rocketship Spark Academy. I am also a Rocketship graduate and a member of the first ever class at Rocketship Mateo Sheedy Elementary.

I’ll be honest – I never thought I’d end up here. Before starting at Rocketship Mateo Sheedy as a founding third grader, I went to four different elementary schools due to unstable housing. My single mom worked six days a week at a local Subway franchise. Her long hours meant that my two siblings and I had to find our own way to school and back.

But Rocketship was different. Longer hours, teachers who knew my mom and asked for her partnership, expectations of college and career success, and more, set Rocketship apart. I struggled with reading initially as Spanish was my first language. But Ms. Guerrero and other dedicated teachers gave me every support I needed, personalizing the learning so that I could succeed.

It wasn’t easy. Throughout middle and high school I relied on mental health supports from community organizations and mentors in my neighborhood to get through. I often felt alone in high school, but I trusted that it would be worth it. And as an undergraduate at the University of California Santa Barbara, I wasn’t sure what I would do with my Global Studies major.

But I knew that I had a community of support to meet my needs and help me find my way. You see, I am a child of my community. I was brought up by everyone who supported my family. From the tutors at school to the members of Nextdoor Solutions for Domestic Violence who worked with my mom to those who managed our low-income housing project – I would not be here today without that community support.

Now, working with CareCorps, I get to directly help so many families from my community. At the onset of the pandemic in Spring of 2020, Rocketship launched CareCorps as a new way to support families in navigating the very real impact the pandemic has had on our communities. In those early days, school-based and regional staff worked together to respond to daily surveys in order to connect families with the right resources to address often heartbreaking challenges. COVID exacerbated what we already knew: in order for our students to succeed, they need so much more than a great in-school experience – they need access to healthy meals, stable housing, affordable health care, and more to truly unleash their potential as the future leaders of our world.

After seeing the tremendous impact of CareCorps on our communities, our California region decided to invest in building and growing the program for the 21-22 school year. We launched the 2021-2022 school year with one full time CareCorps Coordinator at each school site tasked with building a robust CareCorps program based upon the following pillars:

As a Carecorps Coordinator, I get to connect parents to food pantries, help them access housing resources, facilitate workshops with Rocketship Spark’s Mental Health Provider to help acquaint families with resources in their communities – and so much more. Every day, I get to see how my work makes a direct, positive impact in people’s lives that can set off a chain reaction of change in our communities. Like me, I know that when our families get what they need inside and outside of the classroom, entire lives can change.

My entire life changed when I decided to be the first in my family to attend college. Right away I noticed how much of a role model I became to my family and loved ones as I had the brand new experience of going to collegeMy mom cried every single time I would visit from college, and my siblings grew up without me. Since I graduated, I was able to help my sister and best friend fill out their FAFSA’s. Now my younger sister is giving beauty school a try, and my oldest sister is back in school to earn her GED. I am proud to have sparked a chain reaction in my family, as well as in my community.

At Rocketship, I learned that character counts. I learned that there are no excuses when you have a community supporting you. And I learned that every single person not only can succeed, but can start a chain reaction to lift up their entire community. So Rocketeers, tomorrow when you’re dancing at Launch or working on number stories or reminding your students to be persistent – know that though these actions might seem small, they add up to quite a lot. They add up to alumni like me. They add up to thousands more alumni working hard in high school, achieving in college, and they add up to entire communities trying to change the world.

Published on October 22, 2021