2015 Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago Youth of the Year Winner Laura Ambriz - Breaks the Unbreakable - and Shows Chicago That She is Truly Our Very Own!
2015 Youth of the Year Winner
Can you imagine what your life would be like if you were limited to an 8th grade education and afterwards a lifetime of work in the fields harvesting crops from sunrise to sunset? For me, that was exactly what my future was shaping up to look like.
I was born in a small traditional town in Mexico where opportunities were limited, especially for women, and the idea of getting a college education was an impossible dream. I loved my home country, but the opportunity for a better life and to escape poverty just didn’t exist there. I wasn’t sure what my future would hold. Until the day my mom said she wanted my brother and me to have better opportunities than the ones she had growing up, so my family decided to move to Chicago.
At first, it was hard for me to get used to such a drastic change. I felt helpless in such a big city. I didn’t have the confidence to believe in myself. I was bullied and picked on by the other kids at school. I felt lonely and in even in this new country I still wasn’t sure what my future would hold.
Once here, my mother had to work 14-16 hours a day to provide for my brother and me, but she tried her best to spend as much time with us as possible. As a matter of fact, she would use her lunch hour to walk me to school and to come and pick me up. I spent every morning and evening at her job in the restaurant helping out wherever I could. For a little while, my prospects didn’t look much brighter in this country as it did in the old one.
There we were, mother and daughter going to school and working from sunrise to sunset. But what else could we do? She couldn’t afford childcare and she couldn’t leave me at home by myself. So there I was, a little girl spending my childhood in the back of a restaurant "working". Not a childhood I would wish for anyone.
But then one day that all changed. My mother heard about a place where children are cared for by adults while they play and learn. Where parents could go to work knowing their kids are in a safe place. That place was the General Wood Boys & Girls Club.
As soon as I walked in I was treated with kindness and I saw children with smiles on their faces. Joining the club made me feel like my life was finally going to take a turn for the better. Part of this change was the club staff giving me the courage I needed to try programs at the club, like theater. I decided to join the production of Wait Until Dark, a Broadway production first performed in 1966.
During one of the rehearsals I had a line about a plate being unbreakable, then I threw the plate on the ground, and guess what? It broke. We all stood around for a moment stunned, and then one of my fellow actors said, "you have just broken the unbreakable".
At first I took his joke literally. But over time that statement began to mean more and more to me. I realized that to me being able to "break the unbreakable" meant I had worked very hard to achieve goals that at one point I thought I would never be capable of reaching. Goals like gaining self-confidence, achieving high marks in school. And putting a plan together to go to college and earning scholarships that would help pay for it.
When I was younger, higher education was something I couldn’t even dream of, and now I am planning for it because it is definitely a reality in my future. General Wood Boys & Girls Club have provided me with a voice. A voice that lets me speak up for what I believe is right and speak out against injustices like bullying. Those experiences I had when I first arrived in this country have made a permanent impact on me that gave me motivation. I hated getting bullied when I was a little girl and I don’t want anyone else to go through that.
We should be able to express ourselves freely without being afraid of what the outcome might be. Our culture, race, gender, sexual orientation, and personal styles should not make us targets for bullying. But nothing will change unless we make that change happen. We need to let go of our fears and take the first step toward "breaking the unbreakable". I am committed to help put an end to bullying by talking about the benefits of diversity through campaigns and organizations that will allow us as a society to recognize and accept everyone for who we are.
Today "breaking the unbreakable" helps describe my hardworking mom, the wonderful staff at the club, and the tough kids from our neighborhood, that in spite of the challenges we face and the bullies that sometimes try to break us, it shows that we too are unbreakable. And I hope that somehow unbreakable describes me too. Thank you.