Lissenia Ruiz Success Story

Entering my fourth grade school year, my single mother moved my two sisters and me to Lancaster, PA. Prior to this we lived in both New Jersey and Puerto Rico. I loved Lancaster, compared to the other few places I had lived. It was clean and the diversity was great. Though a little scared at first, relief quickly came when I was introduced to other Hispanic children in my neighborhood. I did not speak English at the time. However, with the help of my few friends and school teachers, I was able to quickly learn English as my second language.

I never felt ashamed of my Hispanic heritage while growing up. In school my classes were always full of students from different places and with different nationalities. It felt like one big pot luck and I was able to have a taste of different cultures through friendships with other students. My educational experiences were good and the help received by teachers was appreciated greatly.

I was encouraged to study and to do my best at all times by teachers before I became part of Advantage Lancaster. But the reality was that being the oldest child of a nonworking, single mother, who spoke no English required a lot of extra responsibilities. College, career, and even the idea of having a family were just that… an idea. How this would all become a reality? I did not know.

I received a phone call one summer that became the key for a life changing journey. I did not know what to expect when I accepted the invitation to be part of Advantage Lancaster. But I sure will never regret saying yes. See, Advantage Lancaster provided a turning point in my upbringing where the idea of college, success, career, and family turned into dreams. Moreover, Advantage Lancaster planted in me seeds of honesty, integrity, hard work, and diligence in order to usher those dreams to come reality. Not only did Advantage Lancaster encourage me to do my best, as other school teachers did, they also showed me and taught me practically how to reach my dreams.

Being in the program taught me so much about life. As we visited colleges, wrote book reports, wrote on our journals, and even took a computer summer class, my eyes were opened to the possibility that regardless of how limited my present seemed like, my future could be great if I chose it to be. I was shown that there were many opportunities for me. I just had to reach out and take them. Life was about ceasing the moment and being assertive.

One of my key memories in Advantage Lancaster that deeply influenced me into my adulthood took place while we were traveling in the van on a college visiting trip to Kutztown. Mr. Bair was driving while Mr. Meadows was speaking with the rest of us in the group. I was sitting in the front seat when all of a sudden I heard Mr. Bair apologizing in a very low voice as he turned his turning signal on to merge to the right lane on the highway. Then I saw him waving to a man that quickly drove past us on the left lane. It might seem silly, but I did not know at that time that the left lane was the passing lane. But what penetrated my heart that day was Mr. Bair’s demeanor and how he peacefully handled himself in the situation. When I asked him why he apologized and moved, he said, “Oh, I was in his way. I saw him zig zagging back and forth trying to pass me and I realized I needed to move.” Most people would not care, or would rather be upset with the other driver for tailgating. After all Mr. Bair was going the speed limit. Instead Mr. Bair took no offense and politely moved out of his way.

I often think about this. It may not seem like a big deal. But as I have grown up I have realized that life can get busy and we can sometimes end up living like we are on cruise control. We stare down our lane and let our lives be whatever they are. People, time, opportunities, events, etc. pass us by and we don’t even notice. Nevertheless, when I think of this memory I remember to take a look at my rear view mirror and my side mirrors. I remember that I have been empowered to take charge of my life and own every decision I make. My foot can press the gas pedal and decide how fast I want to go to reach my destination, my goals and dreams. But I also have the choice to press the breaks and pause to enjoy the landscape and the people around me. It’s important to not just look forward, but also look behind me and on my sides and appreciate those that are walking with me and help those that need “roadside assistance”. But most importantly, I need to be confident in who I am so that when I notice someone who is ready to get ahead of me, I am able to politely and cheerfully move out of their way without any resentment and share the joy of their success.   

With this principle in mind, that I can own my life and choose to be different than what statistics of young Hispanic girls say, I pushed through difficulties and diligently worked towards the life I wanted. I graduated high school and married my high school sweetheart a year later. I became a military spouse for a little over four years and with support, I was able to get my nursing license during that time stationed in South Carolina. Interestingly, a deeper passion began to burn inside for counseling when I began to work as a line therapist with autistic children. As a result, once my husband and I moved back to Pennsylvania, I went back to school and began my studies in the Psychology field. Currently my husband and I own a home where we are raising three handsome and very energetic boys. Soon I will receive my Bachelor in Psychology, concentrating in Christian Counseling from Liberty University. Shortly after, I will be entering into the Master’s Program in order to become a Family and Marriage counselor. To say that I am excited is an understatement.  

Whether we were sitting around a table stuffing envelopes for an organization or cleaning a playground under the heat, Advantage Lancaster highlighted the importance of serving even in what may seem little and when no one is looking. Giving of yourself to the community is more rewarding than sitting on wealth and success alone. I have learned to never underestimate small beginnings. It is these moments that help shape us for when greater things come. I thank Advantage Lancaster for helping in my character shaping, for helping me dream, and for inspiring me to go after my dreams. My only hope is that others are able to be part of this great program in a larger scale so that they too can not only be inspired and equipped as I was to be the best they can be in their personal lives, but also so they can be respectable, reliable, and honest contributors to the community.