Cindy Castillo

Juan Angel

Moises Bautista
Amado Flores
Amado Flores
Silvia Gomez
Silvia Gomez
Carmina Ortuna
Carmina Ortuna

Mireya Nino Valdes

Diana Viscarra
Ramon Alvarez
Corina Romero

Cindy Castillo

Aspiration: Special education teacher
Current Job: Caregiver
Past Job: Cashier

SASS student Cindy Castillo was a special education teacher in Nicaragua. Now, her dream of working with special needs children in the US is one step closer to reality.

When Cindy came to the US three years ago, she got a job at Chucky Y. Cheese's earning $10 an hour. Today, thanks to her experience with special needs children and the English skills she gained at Sequoia Adult School and Cañada College, she’s working as a caregiver for a 9-year old boy with autism, doubling her salary and doing the work she loves.

Cindy’s goal is to get an Associate degree in psychology from Cañada and then transfer to a university to get her special education teaching credential.

In addition to receiving a SASS scholarship to pay for her books and parking, Cindy was one of the first beneficiaries of SASS’s laptop program. “Before I spent a lot of time in the Learning Center. Now I can do my homework late at night,” Cindy says. “My computer made my life a lot easier.”

Cindy Castillo

Cindy plans to be a special education teacher

Juan Angel

Aspiration: CNC machine operator
Current job: Stone carver, CNC-operator in training
Past job: Stone carver

Juan Angel’s goal is to work with his head instead of his hands. Thanks to Juan’s knowledge of English and computer skills – and a boss who recognizes Juan’s potential – that goal is becoming a reality.

Juan comes from a family of stone masons, so when Juan moved from Mexico to the US in 2008, he found a job as a stone carver. When an on-the-job injury left him unable to work, he received a SASS scholarship and started taking classes at Cañada College. Now back at work, Juan is learning to operate a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine, a computer that automates the control of machine tools. Operating that machine requires math, computer applications and English skills (reading instructions, for example) that Juan gained at Cañada College.

“The classes I took at Cañada made this possible,” Juan says. “SASS made it possible for me to take advantage of those classes.”

Juan Angel

Juan in front of the Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine he operates at his job.

Moises Bautista

Aspiration: Sales engineer
Current job: Full-time student
Past job: Machine operator

Moises Bautista’s seven-year tenure at Cañada College has come to a glorious close. In May, Moises graduated with an AS degree in engineering. This fall, he transferred to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo where he’ll major in industrial engineering.

Along the way, SASS helped Moises pay for many of his books, a few of which cost more than $200.

It took Moises seven years to get his degree because he worked close to full time while attending college. But he has no regrets about the time it has taken him to get to where he is.

“Cañada made me the person I am today,” he says. “It’s where I grew up.”

Moises Bautista

Moises is the first SASS recipient to receive an AS degree from Cañada College.

Amado Flores

Aspiration: Civil engineer
Current Job: Tutor, Cañada College Computer Center
Past Job: Cook

When Amado Flores came to the US from Mexico in 2011, he started at zero. “I couldn’t communicate in English. I didn’t have a job. I didn’t have any experience in this country,” Amado says.

Now Amado is on track to receive an Associate of Science degree in engineering from Cañada College and transfer to a four-year university. His goal is to be a civil engineer.

Soon after he came in the US, Amado found a minimum wage job at a Mexican restaurant. He also enrolled in ESL classes at Sequoia District Adult School, then started taking ESL classes at Cañada College. Amado completed the ESL sequence at Cañada in a year. He has taken classes in calculus, physics, history, and sociology, and works part-time as a student tutor at Cañada’s computer center.

During his tenure at Canada College, Amado has received more than $2,000 in scholarships from SASS, which have paid for textbooks and bus passes to and from college.

“What is amazing to me about this country is that there are people here who are willing to help people they don’t know, without judging them, without saying, ‘Oh, you are undocumented. Oh, you are Mexican. Oh, you are too old to go to school’.” Amado says, “Thanks to these people, I have been able to achieve what I didn’t believe I could achieve.”

Amado Flores

Amado has received more than $2,000 in scholarships from SASS, which have paid for textbooks and bus passes to get to and from college.

Silvia Gomez

Long-term Aspiration: Nurse
Short-term Aspiration: Medical assistant
Current Job: Certified nursing assistant

When Silvia Gomez arrived in the US from Mexico at age 15, she had every intention of learning English and earning a high school diploma. Instead she found herself caring for her critically-ill aunt, attending high school for less than a year.

Silvia studied English on her own and—with no formal ESL training—passed the exam to become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). She then got a job at a nursing home and started taking ESL classes, first at Sequoia Adult School, then at Cañada College.

Silvia has completed the ESL class sequence at Cañada and is now studying to be a medical assistant. The classes are difficult, and Silvia studies several hours a day, mostly during breaks at work and after her daughter has gone to sleep. But she’s not even close to ending her education; as soon as she begins work as a medical assistant, she plans to start taking nursing classes.

As Silvia sees it, “There are so many opportunities in this country. I’m not going to miss any of them.”

Silvia Gomez

Silvia’s goal is first to become a medical assistant and then to become a nurse.

Carmina Ortona

Aspiration: Helping others open their own food truck
Current job: Food truck owner and operator
Past job: Cook

Before coming to the United States, SASS recipient Carmine Ortuño owned a small restaurant in Acapulco. Wanting to capitalize on her passion for cooking, she recently opened a food truck in San Jose specializing in traditional Mexican fare like chili verde, chicken tinga, and barbacoa.  A company called FoodTruckEmpire provided her with the knowhow she needed to get started.

In addition to working 12 hours days preparing and selling food for her truck, Carmina now has her own catering business, a result of satisfied food truck customers asking her to prepare food for private parties.

Carmina, who came here to escape violence in Mexico, knew no English when she arrived. A SASS recipient for the past two years, Carmine has completed all classes in Cañada College’s ESL sequence. Her next step is to take math, business, and computer classes with the goal of getting an Associate degree in business administration. 

Carmina Ortuna

Carmina poses in front of her food truck.

Nangilma Mireya Nino Valdes

Aspiration: Owner and manager of her own cake decorating business
Current job: Baker, babysitter
Past job: Fitting room attendant, housecleaner

Nangilma Mireya Nino Valdes is a SASS recipient. She is also a professional cake decorator.

Mireya came to the US from Toluca, Mexico 15 years ago and quickly found two jobs: working as a housecleaner and as a fitting room attendant.

Ten years later, Mireya enrolled in Cañada College to learn English and study early childhood education. But along the way, Mireya discovered she had a knack for cake decorating and started baking cakes professionally for weddings and parties.

Thanks to the classes she took at Cañada, Mireya knows enough English to communicate with clients and hones her skills by taking classes—in English—on While she still can’t afford to give up her day job as a babysitter, Mireya’s goal is to turn her fledgling business into a full-fledged bakery.

You can check out Mireya’s cakes on Facebook; just go to PastryMiel .

Mireya Nino

Mireya proudly displays one of her signature cakes.

Diana Viscarra

Aspiration: Paralegal
Current job: Airport security guard
Past job: Server

For Diana Viscarra, getting a GED opened doors she never knew existed.

Diana graduated from high school in Mexico, but when she came to the US at age 18, she couldn’t afford to go to school. Instead, she got a job as a server at a fast food restaurant, a position she kept for ten years.

Tired of her low wages, Diana went to Sequoia District Adult School to study for her GED, which she took in Spanish. When she passed, she quit her server job and started working in airport security. But that was just the beginning.

“People at the Adult School told me about Cañada College,” Diana says. “They told me so many times that I should go back to school.” Eventually, Diana took their advice. When she finishes her ESL classes, she will start fulfilling General Education requirements. Her goal is to be a paralegal, a career she learned about while taking a career development class at Cañada.

Diana says that, without SASS’s help, she may not have gone to college. “I am working so hard, sometimes till 2:00 in the morning. If I didn’t have SASS, I am not sure I would do this.”

Diana Viscarra

Currently working as a member of SFO's airport security, team, Diana’s goal is to be a paralegal.

Student Stories

Ramon Alvarez

Aspiration: Chef
Current Job: Sous chef
Past Job: Dishwasher

Ramon Alvarez came to this country when he was 16. He’d had eight years of schooling in Mexico and knew no English. Like many immigrants, he came here so that he could send money back to his family in Mexico.

Soon after Ramon arrived, he landed a job working for $8.25 an hour as a dishwasher. Now, ten years later, he’s a sous chef with a salary of $36,000 a year plus benefits.

Ramon attributes his success to the ESL classes and computer classes he started taking three years ago, first at Sequoia District Adult School and then at Cañada College. All of Ramon’s college textbooks and parking passes were paid for by SASS scholarships.

“I use English every day,” Ramon says. “I need to talk to the waiters and talk to the managers. I also need to use the computer to order food, take inventory, and send emails. I learned those skills at the Sequoia District Adult School and then Cañada College.”

Due to the stresses of his new job—he has to commute from Redwood City to San Francisco—as well as family problems, Ramon had to stop taking classes mid-semester, but plans to return to college once his life settles down. Not surprisingly, his goal is to be a chef.

Corina Romero

Aspiration: Nurse
Current Job: Mom

As a mother of two children with cystic fibrosis, Corina Romero is used to spending time in hospitals. Last year alone her children, ages six and nine, were hospitalized with lung infections more than twelve times.

Corina came to the United States from El Salvador when she was 21. When her children were first diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, Corina knew no English. As a result, she depended on medical interpreters to translate. Since interpreters were in short supply, she was forced to spend additional time in waiting rooms, her children in tow, before an interpreter was available.

Corina’s response was to enroll in ESL classes—first at Sequoia District Adult School and then at Cañada College—so she could learn enough English to speak directly with the doctors, nurses, and pulmonologists caring for her children. Corina has achieved her goal: today, when hospital personnel ask her if she’d like an interpreter, she politely declines.

Corina received her first SASS scholarship in 2011. In addition to taking ESL classes, Corina has taken several college computer applications and fitness classes—all of which provided much-needed distractions from the concerns that consumed her. “When I was in school, I stopped thinking about my situation,” Corina says. “School helped me to not focus only on the bad.”

In July, Corina’s daughter Doris received a double lung transplant so, for now, Corina is caring for her full time. Long term, her dream is to be a nurse. “I know how to give my daughter an IV, flush the line, and change the G-tube (gastronomy tube). After that, being a nurse shouldn’t be so difficult,” she says.

To see a video of Corina and Doris filmed before Doris got her lung transplant, go to Lipstick Girl.

Sequoia Adult School Scholars, 3481 Janice Way, Palo Alto, CA 94303  |  (650) 395-8350