When Yetzibel Santos first arrived in America, she was shy, sad, and didn’t speak any English. She and her family moved to the United States when she was 7-years-old in hopes of a better life. However, the language barrier made it very hard for her family to find fair housing, and they were frequently taken advantage of without the means to defend themselves.
Fast forward to today and Yetzibel Santos is someone completely different. Now she is the recipient of the JAG Executive Director Award, the state Governor’s Award, and is the Cayce West Columbia Rotary Club’s Student of the Month for April 2016. She has spent the last year as the Career Association President of JAG, serving as a model of energy and motivation for her fellow students. Santos is described by her JAG coordinator as a “courageous young lady who has not only overcome unimaginable circumstances just to survive, but has also managed to leave an indelible mark on the world as she successfully approaches her high school graduation.”
JAG stands for Jobs for America’s Graduates, a program coordinated by DEW and designed to prevent students from dropping out of high school as well as teach them necessary workforce skills. Some of these skills include how to interview, how to dress properly for the job, how to be on time, as well as other good work habits. A major turning point for Santos’ self-awareness happened while in the JAG program. Santos stepped up to translate and advocate for her family when they were about to lose their home. She used her leadership skills to help them get the representation they needed.
“They saw something in me that I couldn’t see in myself,” Santos said in an interview last September on her experience in JAG.
JAG students at Swansea High School run the food bank for the district which has a high prevalence of minority, working class and poor residents. The JAG food bank aids some of the district’s students and their families who may not have enough to eat at home. When Santos first saw the JAG food bank she was inspired and knew that someday she wanted to be the one running the show. For the past four years the Swansea High School Food Pantry has been Yetzibel’s passion.
Santos was previously featured in the September 2015 DEWsletter for her extraordinary growth in the JAG program. Once an at-risk student, Santos is now a soon-to-be graduate as well as a role model for her community. DEW is excited for Santos’s accomplishments and looks forward to hearing more of her successes in the future.