Damaris Sanchez – LatPro Scholarship Finalist for August 2012

In the fall of 2008, a young brown-eyed woman with curly black hair and caramel skin sat in Washington Square Park. While she stared at the powerful sprays from the central fountain, childhood memories stirred. There were struggles that she did not want to remember, such as when this same five-year-old girl went to St. Vincent’s hospital to be evaluated by unfamiliar faces for a learning disability she did not know she had. She thought: Am I that dumb? Would I have the help I need to continue with my education? Other faint images surfaced, such as wiping down dirty windows and tables at other people’s homes, helping her mother do laundry, mop floors, and dust wooden panels. America, her aging mother, had alligator-like crusted skin on her frail hands, a permanent reminder of hard manual labor. The girl could not stand to see her mother suffer this way. That little girl was me.

I value education so much mostly because of my mother. Her influence and wisdom inspired me. My parents immigrated to NYC from Puerto Rico in search of the American Dream. Mother worked in a sewing factory and my father, Rafael, was a doorman. Their dream ended when he died of a heart attack. At six years old, I felt lost. It was even harder for America, because our economic problems fell upon her shoulders: Who would pay the rent and who would take care of us? Throughout our struggles, my mother became my role model, and taught me not to give up or dwell on the past. She pushed my brother, my sister and me through school and cleaned apartments to support us.

I’ve always admired her integrity and willpower. Mother was not ashamed of her own lack of education. Her focus was to nurture her children. She influenced my determination to become what she called remarkable. As a Hispanic girl from a low-income household, I understood that a radical change was necessary to escape hardship. I was motivated to work hard for my education, and one day to establish a career to support my family. She taught me that a learning disability would not limit what I want to do in life. I was born to survive, like her.

During senior year of high school, I was told that I had no chance of being accepted into a prestigious college. I felt incompetent, but my mother’s faith gave me the strength to apply for scholarships to good colleges. In 2008, when I first walked under the historic white arch in Washington Square Park, I was in awe. I felt accomplishment, honor, and gratitude to have been accepted into NYU through the Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) on a scholarship from Ronald McDonald House Charities with support from the Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities. My college experience has led me to want to pursue a career in higher education.

I am passionate about serving as an advisor in impoverished neighborhoods where minority youth are underrepresented. Only 50% of Latino and African-American students graduate from high school. They do not have adequate resources for college and lack access to advisors to support their needs. I want to change that statistic and help youth through advisement by becoming a female representative of color. I can relate to them because I understand what it feels like to be seen as a number, and I know how much we strive to break away from the stereotypes that the media portrays. I could share my skill in investigating scholarships that talented students can apply for.’s scholarship program for Hispanic students is proud to announce Damaris Sanchez as one of the six finalists for its August 2012 application deadline. Vote for her essay (Facebook ‘Like’ and other social media sharing options in left column), and/or leave comments of support to help us with the selection process.

LatPro Admin


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  • Damaris,

    Your story is very inspiring. You’ve climbed many mountains to realize your dreams and to honor your mother. Losing your father and being told you’ve got a learning disability must be very tough to handle, but you pulled through and now you are a NYU Alumni. Keep up the good work Damaris!

  • You are truly amazing! I still remember when you told me you were curious about the past tense in Spanish class, even though you were reading short stories in Spanish. Good luck with everything and one day, your students will be very lucky to have you as their teacher!

  • i love you damaris! i remember telling you that you are one of the strongest person, mentally, that i know and that is still true. keep believing in yourself. i believe you will make and i will be there for support the whole way =) education is the way to go! you better win!

  • Damaris,
    Your story of your past and how it has continuously influenced your present is extremely inspiring! By going through college (and grad school), you show that you beat all the odds-of financial hardship, of statistics, and of the stigma surrounding your disability. I hope that the young adults that you will work with see you as a role model and understand that they can achieve their dream as well. Good luck!

  • What an inspiring story, Damaris! Reading this has made me very hopeful that you’ll impart your work ethic and perseverance to the future children you will teach. The world needs more aspiring teachers like you, who refuse to give up even as the world tries to push them down.

  • Damaris,

    I have tears welling in my eyes now that I’ve read this. I’ve always known that you were a fighter through and through, but this has put into perspective (once again) just how hard you work every day. It continues to amaze me that with even with disadvantages such as economic struggles, the loss of your father, racial stigmas, and a learning disability, you have already had a much steeper climb out of hardship than many will in a lifetime. Your mom, family, and friends are all so proud of you and I can say with confidence that your father is looking down on you with pride as well.

    To anyone reading this, please know that there is no one more deserving of this or any scholarship than Damaris Sanchez. There are days when I sat by her side and watched her work into the wee hours of the morning–finishing projects for school, applying for scholarships, looking for jobs, planning Alternative Break trips–all at the same time, and all with a smile on her face. For all of these reasons, I would not hesitate for a second to refer any young adult to her for advisement or consider her a perfect fit for a career in higher education. With this scholarship, Damaris will be able to climb a little higher and eventually out of the deep hole of hardship. In conclusion, I am proud to support Damaris as a student, as a future member of society, and most importantly, as my friend.

  • Damaris, thank you for sharing your story with the world!! I was very inspired by it! I praise God even more for the opportunities I had to pray with you, and I will pray that you get this scholarship!!! God Bless You! I miss seeing you at the Corps!

  • Damaris. You are such an incredible individual with so much to offer. I am so happy I can call you my friend, and so delighted that our paths crossed at such a big community, university, and city at NYU and New York. The wisdom you carry, experience you have, and stories you share are always well-received and beyond respected by others. Your hard work and compassion for others truly shows, and I wish you all the best on anything and everything you set out to do.

  • Amazing writing and to be accepted to NYU wow very good I hope you win it all and know that your voice was heard tonight. Unfortunate events should always make you stronger keep your goals in mind and know that you inspirer everyday.

  • Beautiful! Just beautiful! Spread your wings, girl! I hope all your dreams come true! Keep reaching! (((((HUGS))))) ~ Liza (Friend of Marilyn)

  • Damaris,
    I don’t cry easy but this is exactly what I have felt throughout the years. You don’t remember me because you were just a baby girl. Your sister is one of my best friends in the world growing up and your brother always the little brother with his comic books. Words cannot express the pride I have for you and your accomplishments. You are right, it is not easy being a female minority student. I can testify to that. But its not that we are dumb. I believe we are actually more resourceful than most! After 20 years and counting of being a female in the military I can tell that.
    I can also tell you that our strong Latin mothers may not have had the “education”, but they are certainly the wises people I know. Your mother was always so sweet to me growing up. I remember her always and how appropriate her name in God’s plan for your life. I hope you are selected. So proud of the little girl I once knew in a stroller. God Sped!

  • Wow!! I am so touched by your honesty and your struggle, but even more by your perseverence and your determination! What a great role model you are for so many who have the same struggles. I teach children with disbilities, most of them minorities, and I could only hope that they will grow up with half of the hard working spirit of determination that you posess! Good luck in all your future endeavors!

  • i completely understand where you come from!!! through highschool i felt like i wouldnt do well in college and i also came from a low-income family in which my mom worked hard to help me out and i had to work my way through college. Keep up the good work 🙂

  • Im very proud of you. I first met you when you were 5 years old when your father first passed away. We all did our best with the littlest of resources to try to get you to feel love all around. Seventeen years later we are very proud of what you have been able to accomplish. I really hope you get this it will be a great finish to your academic career.

  • Tu eres muy querida para nosotros. Estamos todos orgullosos de ti!!! Espero que puedan escojerte para la beca!!! Te quiere Nelly!!

  • Hey Damaris! The very first time I saw you was when you worked as a counselor in the Teen Travel division at Oasis Summer Camp in Central Park in the summer of 2009. Even though I usually see you in the afternoons because every day you took teenagers on trips all around the city, you kept working hard and not letting anyone or anything get in your way. Upon reading your story, I was exalted and touched. As a young man from the Bronx, I just want to let you know that I grew up in the same circumstances as yourself, having a learning disability. I was born with autism, but a milder form called Asperger Syndrome. I had to start out in special education because that was the only way for me to get an education in these conditions, but I was also able to be mainstreamed, so I can join with others who do not have any related learning disabilities. I took the time and succeed through all levels despite the adversities, and as of now, I am still taking the time to learn. As one of my old friends told me, “Don’t let anyone discourage you. Just have faith, trust God, and He’ll guide you along the way.” I am passing this on to you, and God speed in all of your endeavors.

  • Karen P
    Very inspirational and encouraging story.I am all for hard work and determination. I teach my own children that you get what you say, so don’t say negative things about yourself, your future, or anyone else. If you have a goal, a desire to do great things, then the God of heaven and earth will be with you. We are all born capable and able to do great things to help and inspire others so that their light can one day shine. I will keep you in my prayers. May God continue to bless you and your family.

  • Thank you for sharing your inspiring story, Damaris. I agree with you in that we need more people of color pursuing a higher education which means we need more people leading the way. Our community would greatly benefit from your work as an advisor and an overall role model.

  • Damaris,
    This is such a well articulated essay on the struggles of not only you and your family, but several others out there. I congratulate you on first achieving success thus far in spite of such challenging obstacles. Secondly, I congratulate you for recognizing how you can make a positive change in your community. You can certainly relate to others like you who still haven’t found the confidence, determination, hope, or path to achieve their goals through higher education. I also think that being a minority AND a female gives you that much more of an edge with regard to empathizing with those who have faced discrimination in various ways. I wish you the best of luck and hope that the selection committee recognizes the incredible impact you can have as a role model and as a community advocate.

  • Your essay pierced my soul, in a good way! 🙂 Learning your story made my eyes water and I felt deeply touched by your drive and purpose. Bendiciones! I’m pulling for ya! I will also share this link on my FB timeline. It’s Hispanic Heritage Month, what better way to share the wealth! Best wishes and take care. 🙂

  • You remind me a lot of myself growing up. I am also a HEOP student at NYU and very proud to be a part of such a phenomenal community of students. Your struggles and hardships remind me of why I should continue to chase my dreams. Thank you for reminding me Damaris Sanchez 🙂

  • Damaris, this was such a touching story. It’s been a privilege to serve with you in the past and it’s so great to see you continue to fight for what you believe in. Best of luck!

  • I have enjoyed seeing you grow up since we first met in my class when you were in 8th grade…and then when we were reunited again in my classroom…this time you were helping other students as a tutor. I always knew you would do great things. It is people like you that remind everyone they can accomplish anything with hard work. Although you have grown up so much, I am honored to have spent a year with you as your teacher. You made me a better teacher during that time. My classroom is always open for you, please come visit! xoxo Ribaudo