“I have many good memories at UCM as a little kid,” Fernando recalls. “It felt great to know that so many people cared about us.” Now a college student -- the first in his family to achieve that dream -- Fernando shared his family's story at United Community's 50th Anniversary Gala celebration. Here is that story in his own words:
"My name is Fernando. My life has been connected to UCM (now known as United Community) here in Mount Vernon since I was little. And my parents and I could not be more grateful.
My parents came to this area about 18 years ago, when I was about 2. Mom is from Peru. Dad is from Argentina. They met in Buenos Aires and ran a small grocery store there. They moved the family to the U.S. to have a better life and to provide my brother and me a better education.
We lived with many relatives in a small, cramped apartment at Mount Vernon Square, until I was about 6, when we were able to move to our own place. My dad worked long hours as a day laborer, doing remodeling work. It was hard, manual labor. Sometimes, Mom would help him out for extra money. Sometimes, I would hear them talking about needing more to pay the bills. Because we didn’t have much, it was hard growing up.
I have many good memories going with Mom to get food at UCM. The staff were welcoming, greeted us with smiles, and made us feel safe and cared for. My brother and I got to choose backpacks in our favorite colors, full of school supplies, through the UCM Back-To-School Drive. It felt great to fit in with everyone else at school. Mom also told us about the holiday gifts that came from UCM’s Holiday Gift Room. It felt great that so many people cared about us.
I graduated from West Potomac High in 2016. Ricardo told me about the UCM Valencourt scholarship that was set up to give back to kids like me so we could pursue college or vocational training. I am happy to say I have qualified to receive the scholarship award twice! I am finishing my junior year at George Mason University – majoring in civil engineering. I also work part-time for an internship at the GMU Facilities Department.
I am also volunteering with UCM again – as a judge on the Valencourt Scholarship committee, to give a chance to other graduates this spring so they have the opportunity to fulfill their hopes and dreams for college and a good career.
With the help of United Community, my brother and I are lifting ourselves up to provide for a good life for our parents so they won’t have to work so hard and worry so much. We will reach our American Dream.
All of you and all of this caring community helped make my dream – and my parents’ dream – possible. I will be the first in my family to graduate from college. I am determined to do well in my chosen career of civil engineering, hopefully right here in Fairfax County, close to my family.
Your generosity means so much to help families like ours. It is difficult to find the right words to say how much we appreciate everyone’s help to get to where we are today. Thank you for your support that helped me and my family – and so many other families like us. Gracias, from the bottom of our hearts."