Born into a Mexican/American family, she felt pain at an early age with the suicide death of her father. Her mother gave mothering her elementary- school- aged daughter a very low priority and Christian was left to fend for herself. There were some dangerous, difficult times but somehow, Christian not only survived but thrived. "My tough life has made me what I am - a good friend, mother and wife." And soon, an effective paralegal.
Christian's role models were drop-out parents, a mother who took no responsibility for others, a father who ran drugs and spent time in jail, a sister who recently died because she was drunk and driving. From a very young age, she saw family violence and fraud committed by people close to her. When she was eight, she was nearly sexually assaulted, becoming a victim herself. Instead, a passion for justice was lit inside of her.
Time to Step Up
But in the last years of high school, life imploded. A depression that she had battled since the death of her father closed in and threatened suffocation. Her relationship with her mother was at its darkest point, and Christian became pregnant. Her determination to prove to her family and friends that she wasn't going to fail in life motivated her to finish high school and graduate D.A.P. (Distinguished Achievement Program).
A few years later, a marriage to her child's father helped to shift Christian's focus because she "had no one else to belong to." And then, as all new mothers know, life got really busy. Within weeks of her marriage, her husband was deployed to Iraq for a year and Christian found herself living alone, taking care of a new-born. It was time to step up. And she did. Now, her son is six, in school, and finally Christian can think about herself and future plans.
Online Paralegal Associate's Degree
The online associate's degree classes at the Center for Advanced Legal Studies was the perfect first step on a long road. "I love this school." she says. "The counselors and staff are great, very accommodating and very supportive. They actually care and want you to succeed."
Christian is interested in immigration law and helping others in her community. Laredo, Texas, is primarily a Hispanic community and the specter of drug cartels looms nearby. Much of the community lives in fear. For many of Christian's contemporaries - Hispanic mothers - this fear is compounded with claustrophobia. They feel trapped when they have a family at a young age and have no support. "One of the old Hispanic traditions is for the man to provide while the woman takes care of the home", says Christian. Once children come along, young mothers worry that they will have to be satisfied and conform to their limited way of life. The idea of continuing education, especially with people from other cultures, is daunting and intimidating. They think: How can I go back to school? Who will take care of the kids? How will I do it all alone? Again, Christian wants to help. "I want to show them that change can happen."
And so she is. With help from CALS, she is the embodiment of change, morphing from a rebellious. lonely street kid into a smart, tough legal professional able to support her family. "I want to be different from the family I grew up with, better. I want to make my mother proud."
For more information about Center for Advanced Legal Studies' programs go to www.paralegal.edu or call 800-446-6931
Blogger, Joy Oden teaches English Comprehension at CALS in both the traditional and online classroom. She writes about her students because she is continually amazed at their desire and ability to overcome difficult circumstances, change their lives, and help others through paralegal education. Today's student hero is Christian Peneloza.