Breaking Social & Economic Cycles of Poverty

Authored by Cindy Dam
Career Development and Alumni Program Coordinator, Students Rising Above
SRA Alum, Class of 2011

A Remarkable Story

Living in the Bay Area isn’t as glamorous as it may seem. From the crowded apartments of San Francisco to the crime riddled streets of Hayward, my parents made do with what they had. Both of my parents are refugees, my father was one of the boat people who escaped the war by leaving his family and fleeing to Malaysia where he resided in multiple refugee camps before coming to the States. Growing up, we lived paycheck to paycheck despite both parents each working two jobs till the late hours of the night. Even though I was the second oldest, my parents relied on me to handle many of the household responsibilities: taking care of my two younger siblings who were almost a decade younger, filling out Medi-Cal forms, writing checks to pay the mortgage and bills, even maintaining their bank accounts. It seemed as if we would be living in a cycle of uncertainty until my dad found a stable job which enabled us to buy a house. Unfortunately, that stability did not last long.

In 2006, my mother was attacked while working at a gas station in Oakland. She suffered a head injury, broken teeth, and a broken neck that put her in a metal brace for over a year. Then, in 2007, my father was diagnosed with kidney failure and needed to go on dialysis for 6 hours a day, which prevented him from working. This took a toll on us financially, but even more so, emotionally and mentally as a family. Eventually, my parents decided to separate and foreclosed the home we shared. The year leading up to my senior year of high school was difficult, I was in constant rotational between my parents to appease both of them while fulfilling my responsibilities as a daughter, a sister, and a student.

Rising Above

To ensure that my academic career would not impact my parents, I maintained a 4.12 GPA while staying involved with sports, music, volunteering, and other programs, like Summer Search and Students Rising Above. I was accepted into UCLA with a full scholarship and Students Rising Above helped meet the gap by providing funds for textbooks, supplies, even housing. Upon graduation, I joined Teach for America and concurrently enrolled into Loyola Marymount University to obtain my Masters degree. Through meticulous budgeting, I graduated debt-free.

Now, as a first-generation student with a low-income background, I have been able to start climbing the ladder toward economic and social mobility so that I can end the cycle of poverty in my family and in my community by working with students who have a similar background through my role as the Career Development and Alumni Program Coordinator as well as a College and Career Success Advisor for Students Rising Above.

Upward socioeconomic mobility is important, especially for those with low-income backgrounds. However, it takes a multitude of steps including attaining a college degree with the intent of leading toward career-ladder pathways. In order for those individuals to achieve this mobility, there are systems in place that need to support them financially, mentally, and emotionally because their needs are much greater than their counterparts.

Breaking Social and Economic Cycles of Poverty

Furthermore, there are other societal issues to consider. According to The Atlantic, “the nation has crossed an ominous milestone last year that threatens more economic polarization and social division. For the first time, public colleges and universities in most states received a majority of their revenue from tuition rather than government appropriations. This historic shift away from tax dollars funding the bulk of higher education comes precisely as the nation’s youth population is crossing a succession of milestones to become more racially diverse than ever.”

Now is the time for the community to get involved and implement change. In our 20th year, Students Rising Above is breaking social and economic cycles of poverty by providing the new generation of a diverse and more representative workforce. We do this by empowering youth in under-resourced communities and schools to access and excel in social, academic, and economic opportunities.

In addition to the 750+ students we have served in our flagship program, our online college and career advising platform, the SRA Hub offers:

  • 14,000+ students across the U.S. a diverse set of resources, tools, and professional advising with the ultimate goal of helping these students in more rural and remote areas pursue a college education and enter career-ladder pathways.

Moving Forward

In my role as a career development coordinator, I support graduating college students through their senior year by providing monthly newsletters with action items and resources from the SRA Hub along with one-on-one support check-ins to guide them in their job search.

In response to a strong demand for additional alumni resources, The SRA Alumni Association was established to continue SRA’s mission in supporting and inspiring our students toward social and economic mobility by providing a new generation of employees and leaders from diverse backgrounds, accelerating positive change. Through the alumni association, we hope to increase alumni engagement, strengthen alumni and community relations and create opportunities to support our alumni family.

SRA has played such an important role in my academic success and has continued to support me by continuing our relationship beyond my college years. As an SRA alum, I find commonality with the feelings of anxiety and stress that many of our students feel about navigating life post-graduation, and this has helped me in build a strong relationship with them.

I’m grateful and humbled that I can be the bridge for our graduating college seniors into the Alumni Association to cultivate an ongoing relationship because Students Rising Above is more than an organization, it is a family.

We encourage you to follow us on the SRA Blog for more personal stories from our deep-rooted Alumni Association and more!