‘Im­pos­si­ble is I’m pos­si­ble’

Four sib­lings raised in poverty by a sin­gle mother in Chicago ‘beat all the odds’ and earn mas­ter’s de­grees.

Gulf Times Community - - EDUCTION - By Jerry Davich

In late 1983, on the day after Christ­mas, Cyn­thia Gil’s fa­ther left her fam­ily’s Portage, Ill., home to run an er­rand. He never re­turned.

“For two weeks, we thought he was dead,” said Gil, who was 9.

“We had no idea what hap­pened to him,” added her big sis­ter, Mary GilGuer­rero, who was 11.

Their fa­ther even­tu­ally sep­a­rated from their mother and moved to the In­di­ana Har­bor sec­tion of East Chicago. Their mother strug­gled for sev­eral years as a sin­gle par­ent with two pre­teen daugh­ters and two tod­dler sons, still in di­a­pers, they said.

“It was tough for her, with four kids and no ca­reer or higher ed­u­ca­tion,” Gil-Guer­rero said.

It also was tough on the two sis­ters, who stuck to­gether dur­ing the dif­fi­cult times.

They re­mem­ber walk­ing to the corner store with their lit­tle broth­ers in tow, with just enough food stamps for a few ne­ces­si­ties and some penny candy.

“We were on wel­fare, and we knew ex­actly what poverty felt like,” Gil said.

The sis­ters also re­call com­ing home from school one day and find­ing all their be­long­ings on the front lawn. “Evicted again,” Gil re­called. “That was our re­al­ity back then,” Gil-Guer­rero added. “But my mother did what­ever she could to keep a roof over our heads.”

They both vividly re­call when their mother’s boyfriend at the time re­fused to drive the fam­ily to a roller skat­ing rink for a night of fun. Their mother had to walk there with all four kids in tow.

“She was stuck,” Gil said. “And I told my­self back then that I never wanted to be stuck like that.”

Her sis­ter added, “I also told my­self that I would never ask a man for money or if I could use his car.”

The girls at­tended six el­e­men­tary schools and three ju­nior high schools be­fore get­ting into high school.

When the girls were 12 and 14, their mother was over­whelmed with it all. She took them to their fa­ther’s home in East Chicago, where they would live for a while.

“It was a base­ment apart­ment with one bed­room, a tiny bath­room with no shower, and roaches ev­ery­where,” Gil said.

“We called it the dun­geon,” GilGuer­rero said.

They had to trans­fer schools, yet again.

“If you’re fa­mil­iar with the area, ou know the streets are dan­ger­ous nd the pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion is ques­tion­able,” Gil said. De­spite all this, the sis­ters re­mem­bered what their grand­fa­ther nsisted to them again and again. hey must at­tend college and earn de­gree, be­com­ing the first in their am­ily to do so, he told them. “Even though he never told us how o pay for it or how to pull it off,” Gil oked.

The sis­ters grad­u­ated from high chool and en­rolled at state col­leges, il at Pur­due Univer­sity in West afayette and Pur­due Univer­sity alumet, where she earned a de­gree n ed­u­ca­tion. And Gil-Guer­rero at In­di­ana Univer­sity, then at PUC, where she earned a nurs­ing de­gree. Along the way, they started their wn fam­i­lies while jug­gling full-time obs and sim­i­lar strug­gles as their mother, though never in such poverty.

“It was tough at times,” said Gil, who’s now 42 and lives in a beau­ti­ful home in Scher­erville, Ind.

“There were times when we weren’t sure if we would get through it,” said Gil-Guer­rero, 45, of Crown Point, Ind.

I met with the sis­ters at Gil’s home when I learned that they both not only over­came the odds against them as teenage girls, but they also went on to even­tu­ally earn a mas­ter’s de­gree at the same school, In­di­ana Wesleyan Univer­sity in Mer­ril­lville.

Their lit­tle broth­ers, Daniel and Richard Gil, also fol­lowed in their steps to at­tend Pur­due Univer­sity, earn­ing de­grees as con­struc­tional engi­neers be­fore also earn­ing MBA de­grees at In­di­ana Wesleyan Univer­sity. One brother lives in Whit­ing, Ind., the other in High­land, Ind. Both work in Chicago.

“My broth­ers are amaz­ing hus­bands and awe­some fa­thers, de­spite not hav­ing a pos­i­tive male role model in their lives,” said Cyn­thia Gil, a mother of two who works as an English teacher at the Ex­cel Cen­ter in Ham­mond, Ind.

“We were four kids, all raised by a sin­gle mother on gov­ern­ment as­sis­tance, yet we beat all the odds,” said Gil-Guer­rero, a mother of three who over­sees a chain of dial­y­sis clin­ics across North­west In­di­ana for Amer­i­can Re­nal As­so­ci­ates.

For a grad­u­ate pre­sen­ta­tion last year at In­di­ana Wesleyan Univer­sity, Gil spoke about sit­u­a­tional and gen­er­a­tional poverty, as part of her 65-page the­sis on poverty and im­mi­gra­tion, in­clud­ing her own per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences.

The univer­sity’s dean of students, Jenny McGill, was in the au­di­ence.

“What part was fact and what part was fic­tion?” McGill asked Gil.

“It was all facts,” Gil replied. McGill asked, “You have three sib­lings who also have an MBA from IWU, and you all grew up with that type of dys­func­tion­al­ity?”

“Yes, that’s right,” Gil replied. McGill said she was as­ton­ished by the sib­lings’ grit and de­ter­mi­na­tion. So much so that she en­cour­aged the sib­lings to share their story pub­licly as part of the univer­sity’s “Shine Bright” cam­paign. The sib­lings shot a com­mer­cial for IWU dis­cussing their de­grees and their fam­ily’s com­mit­ment to each other, and to higher ed­u­ca­tion.

“We de­cided as kids that we would fight for a brighter, bet­ter fu­ture,” Gil said in the com­mer­cial.

“To­gether, we set ex­pec­ta­tions, and to­gether we per­se­vered,” GilGuer­rero said, not­ing that her par­ents are still part of her life.

Ev­ery school day, Gil drives her 16-year-old daugh­ter to Bishop Noll In­sti­tute in Ham­mond. Dur­ing the long, te­dious trip, Gil of­ten shares with her the same mes­sage she was told by her grand­fa­ther. College is a cer­tainty, not an op­tion.

“She doesn’t have the same strug­gles that I had as a teenage girl, but I try to make her un­der­stand the value of ed­u­ca­tion,” Gil said. “I ex­pect her to get straight A’s, and she does. Too many times we sec­ond guess our­selves be­cause we think it’s im­pos­si­ble, when re­ally it means that I’m pos­si­ble.” –

For a grad­u­ate pre­sen­ta­tion last year at In­di­ana Wesleyan Univer­sity, Gil spoke about sit­u­a­tional and gen­er­a­tional poverty, as part of her 65-page the­sis on poverty and im­mi­gra­tion, in­clud­ing her own per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence.

SUC­CESS­FUL: Sis­ters Mary Gil-Guer­rero, 45, of Crown Point, left, and Cyn­thia Gil, 42, of Scher­erville at home.

STRUG­GLE: Mary Gil-Guer­rero, right, and Cyn­thia Gil, in an un­dated photo from their teenage years.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Qatar

© PressReader. All rights reserved.