Angelicca Telles is a 22-year-old college graduate who says she has left behind the travails and stigmas of growing up in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood on the southwest side, crediting the change in her to an enrichment opportunity she received in the summer of her junior year in high school.
Now as a past Farther Foundation scholarship recipient, and its first alumni board member, Telles says she understands that the possibilities in her life are limitless.
“I was an exchange student who lived with a host family in Thailand, and volunteered teaching English to little kids. Occasionally we would go over to the hospital and do outreach,” she said.
Telles, a Chicago native, says her travels abroad to interact with another culture has helped her realize that “there is probably not a murderer waiting for me outside my door.
“As much as that sounds like a basic lesson, it is something I believed day in and day out in growing up in the community I did. Because, living in Little Village is dangerous, there is a lot of gang violence and shooting and stuff,” Telles said.
And, seeing what’s nearby from a wider perspective has been the point since the non-profit’s inception in 2008, says David Weindling, founder of the Oak Park-based Farther Foundation.
“It is our goal to help students break free from the constraints of poverty and propel them towards their highest aspirations,” he said. “It is our aim to provide opportunities for eager and deserving students to travel worldwide and interact with individuals who have diverse backgrounds and experiences.”
As a student at Phoenix Military Academy, with her scholarship this summer Veronica Perez, 16, did a service trip to South America.
The teenager, who also grew up in Little Village, but now resides in Gage Park, tears up when she articulates how “when you are in the city, you do not get that chance. It’s like there are four walls that keep you in your neighborhood, and you are stuck in it. Having that chance, and coming from a low-income family, you do not have the opportunity to get away from the danger,” she said. “When you are able to go to Ecuador, and meet new people and things, you know that there is a whole new, better world out there for you beyond your neighborhood in Chicago.”
Weindling adds that “We know that unfortunately these opportunities are often prohibitively expensive for students from lower-income families, but it is these students who potentially have the most to gain.”
Jennifer Baeza, 17, who also attends Phoenix Military Academy in Chicago, still lives in the Little Village neighborhood with her family. The Latina’s scholarship enabled her to participate in an extended outdoor adventure program in Belize that was transformative.
“There are a lot of stereotypes when you grow up in Little Village. At either 15 or 16, you could get pregnant, or become an alcoholic in high school, or a drug dealer, or especially, a drop out,” she said, with her mother lending support beside her. “My parents helped me to avoid all that. But, being able to go abroad to Belize for 19 days has changed my mindset about everything, including my family, my fears, and now I know that in the future I can do almost anything.”