Driven To Achieve More And Be More

First Literacy continuing scholars know first hand that working towards dreams and goals is not an easy feat. Many of our scholars are the first in their family to attend college, many are working multiple jobs, and many of them have families to care for.

Hard work, dedication, and persistence are a common thread among our scholars. Each scholar also knows that education is powerful and life-changing, which is why they continue to be relentless in pursuing their education.

This year First Literacy awarded continuing scholarships to 14 adult learners that continue to work towards degree’s in a variety of areas. At First Literacy we are proud to continue supporting these driven adult learners in their journey to achieve their dreams.

Here are just a few of the inspiring stories of the First Literacy 2021-2022 continuing scholars.


Ariela moved from Cape Verde to Lisbon, Portugal with her single mother when she was fifteen. She struggled with the transition, dropped out of school and worked as a waitress. In 2014, with a 6-month old daughter, Ariela followed her mother to the United States. After living in a series of shelters, she found Julie’s Family Learning Program which helped her with childcare and housing applications while she attended their HiSET diploma program. With new stability and confidence in her life and a desire to build a better life for her growing daughter, Ariela began studying at Bunker Hill Community College. She has now completed four semesters, studying English, Psychology and planning to major in Allied Sciences. The Covid-19 pandemic was very difficult with the transition to virtual online learning, but Ariela persevered, sharing technology with her daughter who was also completing school assignments online. Despite the pandemic challenges, Ariela maintained a 4.0 grade point average and plans to continue her studies at Bunker Hill. She hopes to work in medicine when she has completed her degree.


Gabriela grew up in Venezuela with a love of books inspired by her mother. Outside of her studies she worked on social projects in Caracas, attended a social empowerment course in Mexico and participated in the 2017 Yale Global Scholars program. While she was at Yale, the Venezuelan political and economic situation worsened, and Gabriela’s family insisted that she remain in the United States. She applied for political asylum, finished high school with Pathways, Inc., and found a job teaching once she received her work permit. After completing an internship at Yale, Gabriela continued her studies in history at North Shore Community College. She has continued her interest in social projects at NSCC where she is student president and has worked with MASSPIRG on a campaign for affordable textbooks. She is involved with the Art Club, the Environment Club and is President of Leadership in Phi Theta Kappa (an honors society recognizing academic achievement for community colleges). In the summer of 2020, Gabriela volunteered at Upchieve, doing academic coaching for high school students. While continuing her studies, achieving academic honors and engaging in meaningful extracurricular activities, Gabriela has also been facing a difficult family situation. Her father died a number of years ago, and she has been caring for her mother who is in an advanced stage of Alzheimer’s disease. Their insurance coverage is meager, and she has used money saved for her education to pay for her mother’s treatment. Despite all of this, Gabriela has continued to work toward her goal of becoming a teacher in History and Languages. She expects to graduate from NSCC in spring of 2022 and will go on to get her bachelor’s degree. She would also like to pursue a Masters in Education, in her own words, “so that my students can count on someone to support them and guide them on the path they decide to travel.” 


Julia was born and raised in East Boston. With an unconventional upbringing, she and her younger sisters did not attend school or see doctors. Julia’s first experience in a classroom was when she enrolled at Harborside Community School’s Adult Education Program. She passed her HiSET exam and began studying at North Shore Community College. In her first year there, Julia struggled to adjust to school norms and expectations. She was successful in her request for accommodations and has now become a stronger student and better test-taker, overcoming her generalized anxiety. Online learning due to pandemic safety requirements was another challenge for Julia, but she has continued her studies. Her favorite courses are Biology and Chemistry where she finds it fascinating to learn “the intricate mechanisms of how the world and its inhabitants function.” Following her love for animals, Julia’s dream is to obtain a bachelor of science and become a Veterinary Technician.  She also hopes her hard work and dedication will act as an inspiration to her younger sisters.


Damus came to Boston eight years ago when the United States welcomed victims of Haiti’s magnitude 7.2 earthquake in 2010. She stayed with friends, found work housekeeping, and ate turkey sandwiches morning, noon, and night to save for her own home. She studied English at the Cambridge Community Learning Center and in two years progressed from housekeeper to waitress to Certified Nursing Assistant. Damus expects to continue with her studies in the RN-BSN program at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Her goal is to become a Nurse Practitioner and open her own practice. Damus is appreciative of the support from First Literacy, as the assistance granted her some financial breathing room to focus on her studies. cause in families and neighborhoods. She is highly motivated to understand the root causes of addiction and to help individuals who are suffering. With her desired degree in social work, Thays will be well-placed to pursue this dream.


When Karen came to the United States from Columbia, she knew that to succeed and understand this new culture she needed to learn the language. Karen quickly progressed through English and college transition programs at El Centro del Cardinal and in 2020 she completed her second year of courses at Bunker Hill Community College. She was also admitted into the Phi Betta Kappa Society, the oldest academic honor society in the United States. While the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted Karen, making it impossible for her to visit her home country and say goodbye to a relative that passed away due to COVID-19, Karen continued with her courses and did her best to stay in touch with family and friends. Karen is determined to take every opportunity to realize her dream of becoming a health care professional. She is currently working towards her Associates degree and plans to continue her education to become a Physician’s Assistant.


Joel came to the United States in 1999, in search of a better future. In his home country of Peru, he faced national unrest, economic depression, and food shortages. He was an outstanding student graduating as valedictorian of his high school class, but he sought an education he could not get in Peru. Life was not always easy when he arrived in the U.S., he had to share small living quarters with his family members and during the pandemic both he and his sister lost their jobs, which helped pay for food, rent and their father’s medical bills. With help from the Jewish Vocational ESOL program Joel was able to learn English, and the First Literacy scholarship allowed him to pay for books and other school supplies. Joel is currently studying biomedical engineering. He made the Dean’s List and is also a member of the Commonwealth Honors Program at Bunker Hill Community College. In April 2021, Joel joined a team doing research on melanoma, and became a cancer research intern at Dana-Farber Harvard Cancer Center. Joel is making progress toward his goal of being a cancer researcher and ultimately earning a Ph.D. in cell and tissue engineering. Perseverance and focused study have made it possible to move toward his goal.


In 2005 Katia immigrated to the United States from Brazil. She came to the U.S. in order to receive the training and financial backing necessary to achieve her dream of becoming a nurse. Life has been challenging since arriving in the U.S. She works two jobs to support her son and her husband, who has health issues. Nevertheless, she received very good grades her first year at Bunker Hill Community College, with quite challenging courses in science and psychology. The First Literacy scholarship helped make this possible, and she is grateful to be able to continue working towards an Associate Degree in Nursing so she can become “an exceptional nurse.”


Lilian came to the United States with her husband and two children to get away from violence that disrupted her family in Brazil. Her first year in the U.S. was very hard. She knew no English and could not work, so her family had serious financial and emotional difficulties. To make matters worse, everyone in her family became ill during the pandemic. However, with determination and hard work, she faced these challenges and overcame them. The First Literacy scholarship was a life saver, allowing her to buy the books and equipment needed for the nursing courses she was taking. Currently Lilian is working towards an associates degree in nursing and plans to complete a bachelor’s degree at Mount Wachusett Community College. Her goal is to become a nurse and she looks forward to being able to help relieve pain and suffering in others.


Yane faced many challenges when she arrived in the United States in 2019. She needed to balance a full-time job, care for her young son, and learning English. In time she was able to get help from the Asian American Civic Association, which allowed her to find work, childcare, and online college courses. Yane is currently studying Early Childhood Education at Bunker Hill Community College so she can continue progress toward her goal of being a teacher. She completed an assistantship in the YMCA childcare program and will soon receive her teacher certificate, despite interruptions caused by the pandemic. She is grateful for all those who have helped her through these difficult times.


Yves came to the United States from Haiti in 2015. After witnessing the disastrous 2010 earthquake she realized she wanted to be a nurse and made the decision to pursue her dream in the U.S. When she arrived in the United States she was met with many challenges. She had to provide for the needs of three children as well as study college level courses. The enforced isolation during the pandemic was hard for all of them, but it caused her to form “many positive changes in my life.” She recognized her competence and success in meeting the various challenges facing her and learned that she could succeed and not be discouraged. The First Literacy scholarship kept her motivated and persistent in following her career path. She was accepted into nursing program at Mount Wachusett Community College and was guaranteed future admission to Fitchburg State University’s online bachelor’s program in nursing. Yves is looking forward to passing along help to others just as others have helped her.


Brima is from Sierra Leone, West Africa – a country that has experienced an 11-year civil war, an Ebola virus epidemic, mudslides, flooding, corruption, hunger, and poverty. Brima moved to the United States in 2017 to create a better life for himself and his family. When he arrived in the U.S. he didn’t know anyone and could not speak, read or write English. While this was challenging to say the least, he was determined to turn his life around and help others in need. Through hard work Brima obtained his GED and is now working as a mental health associate and attending Bunker Hill Community College. His dream is to become a nurse and set the blueprint for others that there is always a light at the end of a dark tunnel.


The youngest of several children, 10-year-old Edith was sent to live with her grandparents who put her to work for the adults in the household rather than send her to school. She was soon ill from exhaustion and hospitalized. Thanks to her doctor’s intervention, she was enrolled in a local elementary school but could not complete high school. In 2009 Edith arrived in Boston. She enrolled in school and later graduated from the JVS Adult High School Diploma program. Her advisor at JVS told her about First Literacy and encouraged her to apply for a scholarship. In 2018 she applied and was awarded a scholarship. The scholarship allowed her to attend Bunker Hill Community College and take care of her family in the U.S. and Haiti. In December of 2020 Edith completed her Associates degree in Arts and Science from Bunker Hill Community College with a GPA of 3.611. She was also accepted to a nursing program and will start taking the prerequisite classes. Her goal is to become a nurse. She is determined to spend vacation time volunteering as a nurse in Haiti.

We are proud to continue supporting these First Literacy scholars and look forward to watching them achieve more and be more!