Success means different things to different people. For some, it’s graduating from high school or landing a dream job. For others, it’s having the opportunity to build a stable family. Whatever our scholars define as success, Pivotal strives to get them there. And every time we check in with past scholars and see how far they’ve come, we know we’ve done our job. In our “Where Are They Now?” series, we’re catching up with four Pivotal Alumni to share their personal journeys to success.
When Marshal reflects on his past, he recounts being lost in a web of vices – alcohol, drugs, gangs. But a meeting with Pivotal and a series of life-changing decisions altered the trajectory of his life and set him on a positive path. Now, he’s heading to UC Berkeley on a full ride scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in social work. After overcoming a lifetime of challenges, he’s on a mission to help other youth like him do the same thing.
How did you find out about the program/get involved?
As I was preparing to graduate from community college, I heard about a “coach” who was going to visit my campus to engage with current and former foster youth. At this point, my only concern was graduating and pursuing an undergraduate degree at Cal State Monterey Bay. When I discovered that this program could help me reach that goal, I got connected to Pivotal – and the rest is history!
When was your Pivotal pivot?
My life has been a series of pivotal moments. There isn’t just one that defined my success, but I look to three main changes in my life as I reflect back.
The first was my decision to walk away from the gang life. This was the hardest decision I had to make as a young adult because my pride, reputation, safety and security were all at stake. Guilt, shame, and uncertainty set in, and I had to endure several years of turmoil and mental isolation afterward. It was a tough decision, but the right one.
The second pivot was getting sober. I spent so many years drowning my existence in a bottle and other drugs. I can still recall getting on a bus with the last $2 in my pocket on May 30, 2014. I headed straight to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting at 7:30 a.m., and I haven’t picked up a drink or drug since.
The last pivot was when I was faced with the decision to stay at my job or pursue a master’s degree. I felt a calling to go back to school to fulfill my life’s purpose, but that meant quitting the highest paying job I ever had. It meant embracing financial insecurity. It meant betting on myself to endure the growing pains and rigor of college. It meant seeing something through for the first time in my life. It wasn’t an easy choice to make, but it was the necessary one. Now, I know that the right decision is to bet on myself and never give up on my dreams.
Where did you go to school, and what are you doing now?
My foundation was built at Gavilan College. I had so much support and opportunity while I was attending community college there. I am forever grateful to my counselor, Mari Garcia, who believed in me no matter how many times I had to restart. Today, I work for the Bill Wilson Center helping young people, just like me, find housing stability and employment. The biggest blessing of my job is the fact that I get to inspire young folks to develop independence, build confidence, and make meaning of their own journeys. I’m also preparing to start graduate school! I’ll be attending one of the top Master of Social Work programs in the country at UC Berkeley on a full scholarship.
What’s the one accomplishment that you’re most proud of?
I am most proud of getting sober and staying sober. I am proud that I gave myself a chance to flourish, and that I am the first of my family to not only graduate college twice, but also to be accepted into a master’s program.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Finish high school and immediately focus on getting into college. Leave the drugs, alcohol, and gang lifestyle alone. Enjoy your family and learn how to forgive. I would also tell myself to save money, learn about the stock market, and invest in Bitcoin!
What do you do for fun? What are your hobbies?
I like to cruise scenic routes and sightsee, fish, and hike. I also enjoy playing sports and attending 49er games, watching superhero movies, playing video games and eating tacos!
Who’s your hero/role model?
My grandfather. He emphatically demonstrates on a daily basis what it means to yield to the humbling hand of life. He embraces an attitude of gratitude and willingness to go above and beyond for others. He is a wonderful human worth knowing in this life and the next.
What is your favorite quote?
“When you want to improve, don’t try harder. Rather, resist less.”
What do you think people would be surprised to learn about the foster care experience?
Foster care breeds the most resilient people.
If you could share one thing with your supporters, what would it be?
I salute your dedication to my success, self-sufficiency, and pursuit of happiness! Enjoy the fruits of your labor, because you have a stake in all the greatness that God is going to bring out in my life.