Denisse loved school all her life. It was a sanctuary, a place to escape from the violence and anger she often faced in her home situations. She loved school and was always eager to learn.

“School was my home where I had friends, and there weren’t any bad things. But one day, I got home just five mins late and he beat me with a belt and cables. It hurt to walk. So, I reported him through my school who then reported him to the police.”

Her dad was arrested but was soon out on bail and Denisse had to go back to living with him and her stepmother. One night, her dad woke her up around 2 a.m. and told her to pack her suitcase. He was sending her back to Mexico. Denisse was terrified. When they got to the airport, she waited for her chance to run away but he was watching her closely. Once she went through security, she was on her own and she knew she couldn’t get on the plane.

“I started crying – I just didn’t know what to do. A janitor asked me what was wrong, and I told him my story. He told me that in the US, there were programs to take care of kids who needed help.”

Denisse-Reversed for blog left space

The janitor showed Denisse how to leave the airport and she knew she couldn’t go back to her father. She was homeless, but continued to go to school, working hard to find her own place in the world. Eventually, she was placed in foster care. A friend introduced her to Pivotal and she went to a workshop. She learned coding, robotics, and website design, as well as professional development skills like how to write a strong resume and interview for a job. Denisse started working with a Pivotal coach who helped her get a summer internship at Kaiser. That's when she got a glimpse of a future that she could make for herself.

When creating this painting, artist J. Duh focused on all the transitions and travels that Denisse went through and her goal to use her experiences to help other foster youth.

“I want to be a mentor so I can tell others that they can do it. They can even get their master’s degree like I’m about to. I don’t want any foster youth to hate themselves for their past. I want to be a little spark for them – so they can see that I could do it and so can they. The world is yours if you are willing to take it.”