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ORLANDO — “Nothing is stronger than a mother’s love for her child,” is how the old saying goes but Valencia student Susana Garcia is an example of just how far a mother will go to give her children the future they deserve.
While some students go to college only to please their parents, Garcia is almost entirely on the other side of the spectrum. In her case she is going to school in order to keep her kids in the United States and away from the crime and kidnappings of Mexico.
“I have witnessed it first hand,” said Garcia of the violence and kidnapping in Mexico. “That’s why I continue to do whatever I need to do so that they have a better future and better opportunities,
“Because if they are able to work here and they were able to work in Mexico at least when they are older they have a choice and whatever choice they make I will respect and it’s my responsibility as a parent to try and give them the best.”
For the 50-year-old mother of three must remain in school in order to keep her student Visa status, which means that if Garcia doesn’t take full-time classes she could lose custody of her two teenage children to her ex-husband back in Mexico.
But the story of Susana Garcia goes much deeper than her battle for her kids, it’s a story full of trials and tribulations that were met with triumph but not without the help of some very important people that Garcia says without their help she wouldn’t know where she would be right now.
“Blessed without a doubt,” said Garcia to describe how fortunate she’s been to have these individuals come into her life. “Capital B, blessed.”
Garcia’s custody battle started when her youngest daughter was 7 years old and it wasn’t until 2013 that the long and ugly legal battle ended but not without the help of a few certain individuals.
Henry Carpenter came into Garcia’s life while her custody battle was just beginning, by that time she had already gone to court representing herself a handful of times. The two ran into each other at a dog park in Dr. Phillips, with Carpenter having recognized her from a prior foreclosure hearing he had been worked on where Garcia herself was the person he was litigating against. Carpenter was working for Washington Mutual at the time and was working on a foreclosure case on the house Garcia and her ex-husband lived in when he ran into her at the park.
After hearing about Garcia’s legal battle with her ex-husband over the children Carpenter offered to represent her compete pro bono, saving her thousands of dollars and in the end, the custody of her children.
“When you see people helping another human being it changes you,” said the Culinary Arts student about her experience with others throughout her ordeal.
But that was only the beginning of this journey now that Garcia had won the right to keep her kids she now has multiple criteria she must meet in order to not lose her children. While she would move back to Mexico to be with her kids, it’s only a last resort. The things she’s seen happen there are what keep her from wanting her kids to grow up in the same place she once called home.
Garcia has seen children’s parents murdered right in front of school by the drug cartels, she knows all too well about the kidnappings that happen in Mexico and how violent it can get in the cities. Which is why she moved to the United States with her now ex-husband to begin with, to get away from all the crime that surrounded them back home.
Valencia College is a whole new chapter for Garcia as she started taking classes in the summer of 2013 and was lucky enough to find a job in the West Campus Atlas Lab by that September thanks to the help of Bliss Thompson. International Students can only work on campus in order to keep their students Visas, this is why Garcia hasn’t been able to look for other employment. Now with the legal battles behind her and some gainful employment she was ready to for the long haul. Thompson is credited by Garcia to being one of the most instrumental people in her life since she started at Valencia.
“My appreciation for the human nature to be kind and giving and helping one another, I live it everyday,” said Garcia. “Add that’s why I feel such a huge responsibility like in my work to help anybody who comes in because I could be them, if nobody had lend me a hand I could be them, I could be living under a bridge with my kids.”
Her job on campus only allows her to work a maximum of 20 hours a week and pays minimum wage ($8.05). While this job does help pay the bills, even with the child support of $785 from her ex-husband, it isn’t close to enough to pay the rent and feed her two kids as well as herself, but with the help of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) she is able to make it by and make sure her children eat well.
But even though she doesn’t have much to spare she makes sure that every time she is approved for SNAP she and her kids create a care package with a few nutritious meals and they will go downtown and pick one homeless person to give it to. This is one of the ways Garcia tries to pay it forward for all the good people that she has encountered in her life.
“I have seen a community of people, many of them who even didn’t know me, come together to help a stranger, somebody who’s not even from this country,” said Garcia fighting back tears. “You do what you have to do you know for your kids, you fight and you try to give them what you think is best for them and that’s what I did and in that process I discovered myself to be a much beautiful person than I thought I was and more kind and more giving and more compassionate,
“But at the same time this is the way I view the world because I’ve made so many friends and so many wonderful people that despite of my nationality or despite of where I come from or what I do are willing to lend a hand.”
While college for most may take between two and four years, sometimes even eight depending on the degree, for Garcia it is a nine-year journey that will have her taking full-time college classes until her daughter turns 21 in 2019 and can ask for her citizenship.
“But it’s been a fantastic journey,” said Garcia. “It’s taught me humility, strength and resilience.”