It is reported that there are 46 million poor people in the U.S., and millions more hover right above the poverty line. Research indicates that in order to move from poverty to economic independence individual transformation has to occur. Damaris Colon-Martinez (34) and her two sisters — Yomaira (30) and Rosa Colon (27) — are perfect examples of this, and they did it together.
In order to pursue a higher education and break their cycle of poverty, the Colon sisters had to embrace the support of their family, seek out help where needed, be resourceful, and constantly inspire and motivate each other along the way.
Despite obstacles abound — coming from the poverty line, in the midst of raising families, working full time jobs to pay the bills, and dealing with serious family medical issues — in May, Damaris and Yomaira will both earn a bachelor’s degree in human services from Springfield College, and Rosa will graduate in June with an LPN from A.I. Prince Technical High School.
The girls all had the same reason to go back to school: they wanted a better life, not only for themselves but for their children.
“We want to be able to give our kids more than what we were given,” says Damaris, mother of three: two sons, 20 and 16, and an 11-year-old daughter.
For Rosa, the birth of her daughter (now 2-years-old) was a huge motivation for her to pursue her education.
“Once I had my daughter life smacked me in the face and said ‘wake up, you gotta do something.’ I was barely making it,” says Rosa. “I know that what I’m doing now is going to get me out of this vicious cycle. The lifestyle that I inherited, in a sense, is just an ongoing cycle that goes so many generations back, and right now with me and my child is where it’s gonna end.”
Yomaira explains that growing up, back in the 1990s in Connecticut, they were surrounded by a lot of gang violence and a lot of negativity, and “I didn’t want that for my kids,” she says.
Both Yomaira and Rosa have noted Damaris’ resourcefulness, and her persistent “can do” attitude as a major catalyst to them going back to school. Yomaira says, “She kicked my butt about going back to school! She is her own advocate, always, whenever she needed help she was never afraid to ask for it.”
Rosa agrees, “If I did not have the family that I have it would have been impossible. I always look to them, if they can do it, I can do it.”
Damaris says, “I’m happy to hear that because now I know. I was looking to make a difference and along the way I’m starting to see that difference and it’s working out.”
Yomaira says that, as the oldest sister, Damaris leads the way by always being involved and in touch with different people that offer support in New Britain. For example, Damaris discovered the Individual Development Accounts (IDA) program at the Human Resources Agency, New Britain, which provided the girls with financial education and aide. The program helped the girls manage the daunting financial aspect of going back to school. Damaris convinced Yomaira to join and Rosa followed as well.
David McGhee, administrator of the IDA program, speaks highly of the Colon sisters and says they give him hope.
“The program is designed for low and moderate income individuals to build assets,” says McGhee, “and they took full advantage of the program to help achieve their goal, which is college. They would be successful without the program; the program makes it a little easier, but the point I’m making is that we played a small part in whatever success they are going to achieve.”
As to the girls supporting each other through the process, McGhee says, “It’s a synergy that fuels them.”
McGhee says the Colon sisters are a great inspiration, because not only are they Latina but they come from an area that is relatively impoverished, and by being resourceful and goal oriented the girls are succeeding.
“I think if others can recognize what they have,” says McGhee, “it’s certainly easy to mimic and obtain the same type of success they are achieving and will continue to achieve.”
McGhee also offers more insight to the girls’ success. He says, “They do not see themselves as victims. And they are not a victim of their circumstance. That is not something they succumb to. I think that is part of the synergy; each one is not a victim and they see themselves as not being victims and they just pick themselves up.”
Yomaira confirms this perspective when she says, “Yes, we are considered minorities, but to us we don’t see that. We think: we want more, we can do more, why can’t we can do more.”
But the girls are also very careful not to take all the credit.
“Our motivation comes from that fact that we support each other so much as a family as a whole,” says Yomaira.
“Quite honestly,” says Damaris, “the three people who have helped us out a lot and have made this really really possible for us has been my husband, my mom and my dad.”
“We’re a really close knit family,” says Rosa. “My mom is the best. She does it all.”
It is with this support that the sisters have been able to rise up, and finally break their cycle of poverty — something extremely difficult and challenging for anyone. They serve as an inspiration for anyone who has the desire to do the same.
“You have to want it,” says Yomaira. “If you want it bad enough there are always people along the way who will support you.”