East Side House saved me when I thought my life was over. For that, I’m forever thankful.
Growing up in the Bronx, Saldana was surrounded by drugs and violence, and didn’t have many role models to look up to. One of nine children being raised by a single mother, at fourteen she got her first job to help support her family. Between work and school, she didn’t have a much time to herself.
Upon entering high school, Christina met a boy and the two quickly became inseparable. He was the pleasant escape and a welcome break to the monotony of her day to day responsibilities. But that sweet escape from reality was about to end and things were about to get even more difficult when a teenage Christina found herself pregnant.
Although Christina was determined not to let this setback stop her from graduating, her self-esteem took a dive when she was shunned and ridiculed by both classmates and teachers. Walking down the halls, out of the corner of her eye she’d spot teachers looking at her with disapproval and could hear other kids whispering about her. Feeling isolated and alone at her high school, she dropped out.
“People made me believe I’d just be another pregnant teen…a failure. I started to believe it too,” she says, recalling her high school days before coming to ESH.
Outside of school things were no easier. After the birth of her daughter, Christina’s relationship with her child’s father became volatile. Looking for a way out, it was at that time that she discovered that she was pregnant again. The birth of her second daughter was the impetus for ending her relationship: “I had to show my girls something different. I had to be a better example.”
Christina struggled to find an HSE (High School Equivalency) program that fit her schedule and needs. She briefly enrolled in the program in Washington Heights, but grew disillusioned and left the program. Soon, she stumbled upon a flyer for East Side House. She approached it with a healthy dose of skepticism, but wanted to hear what we had to say. The next thing she knew, she was enrolled in classes.
Unlike in the past, the staff at ESH was interested in getting to know Christina and wanted to see her succeed. “For the first time in a long time, I felt like I mattered,” said Christina of the warm reception. As more doors began to open, her confidence increased and her mindset shifted. She wasn’t the only one who noticed the change.
It was when she overheard her young daughters talking to each other, taking note at “how happy Mommy was”, that she realized that others began to see her differently too. Life was increasingly getting better for her. Despite facing life’s everyday struggles, like making ends meet while juggling school and two toddlers, she was making it work for her. Christina’s Social Worker at ESH helped lighten the load by connecting her to a paid internship that offered flexible hours while also allowing her to pay the bills. But the highest point of her journey with ESH was yet to come.
After working hard in her classes for months, Christina took her HSE exam—and passed! After obtaining her high school equivalency diploma, the possibilities seemed endless. She was now a very different young woman from the one who saw her life as a dead end just a few years prior. Christina was ready to take on another challenge that she’d never imagined: to be the first person in her family to go to college. And she will be.
This fall, Christina will begin as a freshman at Bronx Community College and hopes to be the role model for her daughters that she never had.