By Morgan Brizee
Jose Sanchez has gone from trying to stay alive while in a gang to having a 4.0 GPA and taking care of his three-year-old son with autism.
Sanchez came from a broken home with his abusive biological father while at the same time being in a gang in Texas. After his sister got jail time for her own affiliation with the gang, he decided that he was going to move. Sanchez left home at the age of 17 and moved from Texas to California. He started to do migrant work in the food industry and worked as a cook at various restaurants.
“Pretty much I felt this was it for me, like the rest of my cousins and the rest of my family from low-income and broken homes, and figured this is it. I’ll work for the rest of my life,” said Sanchez.
During that same time he got married, had a child, and got a divorce. But it wasn’t until Sanchez met his current wife, Stephanie, that his life completely changed. They had a child together that ended up having severe autism.
“It became pretty life changing having a child with special needs,” said Sanchez.
To help support his son’s medical needs, Sanchez worked round the clock and missed the first year of his son’s life. He realized that once his third child, a daughter, was born he needed to take time off of work, even though it would be hard financially, to watch her grow up.
“I took six months off work, it was going to kill us really bad but I needed this, as a father I needed this.”
During his time off work with his daughter he learned that he could be more than just a line cook feeding others, his children taught him that he can be better. So he decided to give college a shot for the first time.
“I started my academic career so to speak and one of my first courses I took was an ECD course and I fell in love with Early Childhood Development.”
Sanchez was able to take what he was learning in the classroom and use it on his own children at home. He learned how his kids think and learn which in returned helped him be a better parent.
Sanchez decided that he wants to be an Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapist for children with autism after learning more about autistic children at school and having a child with autism.
“I’m pretty smart. I have a 4.0, and I’m about to graduate with three degrees. And my heart is set on Berkeley, but I’m going to take a little time before I transfer to Berkeley to work at The School of Imagination in Dublin – to get some experience hands on with the inclusion part of autism in the schools.”
He already works with special needs children at Croce Elementary School in Livermore as well as the Child Development Center here at LPC.
Sanchez wouldn’t have been able to accomplish any of this if it hasn’t been for the help of California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs). CalWORKs is a welfare program to help low-income families. Sanchez has been on CalWORKs for a while to help his family pay for the costs of his autistic child’s medical needs. When he first came to LPC he came to the CalWORKs center to help finance his schooling.
“There was nothing more important than their support,” said Sanchez.
Sanchez recently won a CalWORKs regional scholarship for his life story and his grades. The scholarship was $1,000 and he is still in the running for the state scholarship.
“Its not the money, its not the $1,000 at all, as much as we could really use it, it isn’t the money, it’s the whole idea that my family is going to be presented out there as a family that has stepped out from that whole idea of that’s where you are that’s where you’re going to stay,” said Sanchez.
Sanchez likes that CalWORKs brings families from different backgrounds that have different stories together. He likes that it feels like a big family in the sense that you meet new people and learn about who they are and are able to connect with them.
He has had a lot of supporters. One of them, Kathy Caporusso, who is a part time instructor for ECD. She actually diagnosed Sanchez’s child with autism and has been helping him and his family for a while.
“Because of the scholarship, I believe that Jose will now have the opportunity to become an exceptional educator and to positively impact the lives of many children and their families,” said Caporusso.
The other big supporter of Sanchez is Kimberly Tomlinson, the CalWORKs Coordinator, who has been there from the start. She has helped many students in the CalWORKs program succeed.
“Jose has worked hard to create new opportunities for himself and his family and each semester he gets a little closer to his goals,” said Tomlinson.
Sanchez has done a complete 360 from where he started in Texas, showing how you can turn your life around for the better.