2013 Maria Cruz Mendiola

Maria Cruz Mendiola has led a harrowing life. She’s lived in cardboard boxes, slept in cars and pulled food from trash cans to survive. She didn’t think she’d have any kind of future and certainly never planned on going to college. She was just happy to be alive.

When Maria was 15 years old, she received a letter from her grandmother that said: “Be strong, have courage. Life has something special prepared for you, my beautiful child.” Those powerful words helped Maria discover that she could take on anything that life put in her way. She became fully engaged in school and started working more than 20 hours a week to support her family.

Because Maria experienced the pain and desolation of extreme poverty, she vows to make a difference for those who live in similar conditions. She wants to be a voice for children, especially those who are hungry. She also knows that she needs to get others involved to help make a difference. At Roosevelt High School, Maria participates in many community service activities and leads a student volunteer project for Feed My Starving Children.

Her mother instilled in her the drive to fight for what she wanted. Her stamina and optimism shine through as she makes her dream a reality. Some look on in amazement as they watch her in action. She giggles when she says, “I manage my time really well. On the days I don’t work, I volunteer.”

It’s hard for Maria to talk about her past and remember all that she has overcome. But with the support of her family, she knows she has a gift to share with the world. She plans to go college and become a doctor. Her goals are simple: “Help my family, help my community, help myself.”