A speech by Andrea Lopez delivered to a crowd of 180 guests at Enterprise for Youth’s annual dinner celebration, Heroes at Work. Andrea was the second of three youth speakers to share their personal stories and how Enterprise’s programs impacted them.
“Whether I have a lot or not enough, I’m proud of my accomplishments and failures, and I’m even more proud of having organizations like Enterprise where I can be myself.”
Hello everyone, I wanted to let you know how grateful I am to be here tonight to share my story. My name is Andrea Lopez. I was born in Los Angeles but grew up in El Salvador with my mother, father, and older sister. We didn’t have very much but we had each other.
When I was 17 years old, I contacted an aunt who was living in San Francisco, because El Salvador was becoming too dangerous. I came here because I thought my parents and sister would come after me, but two weeks before they could legally leave the country, the pandemic hit, and all airports were closed. I didn’t have the option of returning to El Salvador, nor were they able to come here to be together, so the only solution was to look forward.
The first four months here in San Francisco were hard for me. I only spoke Spanish and very basic English, so one of my biggest challenges was getting used to the language and communicating. At first, I did not feel comfortable nor accepted because I felt like an outsider. I was overwhelmed because I didn’t know If I was going to be able to see my family again due to Covid. I didn’t really have anyone to talk to and I kept most of my sadness to myself.
Being away from my family and starting a new life here taught me to take initiative and make my own decisions. One of those decisions that I am proud of taking was joining Enterprise for Youth. When I started school at Marshall High School one of my counselors told me about a program that helped young people find internships, jobs, and networking opportunities with professionals. I did not feel confident enough to join it, so I waited until I transferred to Mission High School and a friend told me about this same amazing program that helped her get confidence and find internships. She wasn’t fluent in English either so I gave it a try and I connected with Carlo Solis to start my job readiness training.
In the blink of an eye, I started involving myself more with Enterprise and got amazing paid internships, one with SFUSD improving high school environments, classrooms, and wellness centers, and the second one with The San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR). Working for a non-profit organization is not an easy task. I helped plan an important event called Ideas+Actions and I also worked reviewing their marketing campaign, which helped me imagine myself working in marketing in the future. However, most importantly, it was at Enterprise that I learned the meaning of leadership.
Leadership is the ability to guide people and help them succeed in life. I had a third internship as a Program Assistant at Enterprise for Youth last summer 2022. I felt that I was a role model to new students who were also from other countries; most of them were Latino.
Some of the ways I guided the students were by teaching them to complete their activities on time, helping them prioritize their goals, and supporting them and translating the English activities. Not only was I teaching them academically, but I also had time to share my story. Most of the new students felt depressed because their families were in another country or they had economic problems. I was able to relate to them because we had similar situations. I showed them that with the right effort and dedication, they can achieve their goals.
“I want to teach my community that everything is possible if you put your mind to it. We all have passions and mine is being around people, listening to their stories, and giving them advice.”
Since I came to the US I have needed to support myself and have been able to find work as a babysitter, a secretary, a waitress, and even as a Spanish tutor, but to be honest nothing compares to working at Enterprise, or as I like to call it, “my home base.” All their staff are great, and there whenever you need them; Luz, Lupe, Talia, Lauren, Meghan, Carlo, and Nínive have shown me what’s the meaning of a leader, how to appreciate others, and to not let opportunities pass me.
Learning how to be a leader is a process that forces people to mature, and becoming one taught me to be independent, have more confidence to share my story like I did tonight, and help other students just like me.
And yet sometimes life doesn’t go as planned. I had this big dream of going to UC Berkeley one day. In March 2022 I was accepted. Sadly, the day before I was supposed to move to my dorm I learned that even though I was a citizen they could not offer me the scholarship they promised because I did not have three years of physical presence in the United States.
I am a person that does not give up under any circumstances. My parents taught me to fight for my interest and that there’s always another way to accomplish my dreams, so currently, I am in my second semester at City College of SF, taking business administration classes in order to transfer to a four-year university in the Fall of 2024 seeking a marketing management business administration degree and a minor in education, and I will work hard to become a college graduate in order to further my opportunities.
I want to teach my community that everything is possible if you put your mind to it. We all have passions and mine is being around people, listening to their stories, and giving them advice. If God allows me, I will be able to have an impact on my community in the future.
One of my long-term plans is to open an immigration program that brings families together from all over the world and supports them while they adapt to their new country. I want to improve my lifestyle and my family’s lifestyle. This will allow me to thank them for all the years that they have supported me, and make them feel special and proud of the person they created.
My parents and sister were able to move to San Francisco about a year ago and are here tonight and I would like to ask them to stand. Despite all the challenges life has thrown at me, what I’ve learned through these three years is that no matter how many times a situation closes a door, there is always a window that will lead you to all of the great opportunities that are meant for you. Whether I have a lot or not enough, I’m proud of my accomplishments and failures, and I’m even more proud of having organizations like Enterprise where I can be myself. Thank you to Enterprise for helping us every step of the way.
“No matter how many times a situation closes a door, there is always a window that will lead you to all of the great opportunities that are meant for you.”
Watch Andrea’s Speech Here
Andrea joined Enterprise for Youth during her junior year of high school. After moving back to California from El Salvador in early 2020, Andrea was looking for ways to increase her career skills as well as meet new people – not an easy thing to do during the pandemic. Starting in our virtual Job Readiness and Career Exploration programs, Andrea soon began to take advantage of all of the opportunities that were coming her way. Participating in internships with SFUSD and a SPUR and using our Job Bank has led her to a job and an office administration internship at a construction company. During her time at Enterprise, Andrea is most proud of her work as a Program Assistant supporting newcomer interns as they begin the same journey she started in 2021.
Andrea is completing her first year at San Francisco City College. She will be working as a Program Assistant in our Career Experience Internship program.
Thank you to Katherine Kennedy for coaching our youth speakers, and to our youth speakers for sharing their inspiring stories.
By Francis Orkin, Writing Intern at Enterprise for Youth, 2022-2023