Measured in miles, the distance between Pilsen and the podium at the Union League Club of Chicago is a mere three. Allowing for traffic, it should take about 20 minutes to cover.
But for Isabel Hernandez, 19, an alumna of Metro Achievement Center for girls and a second-year student at Arrupe College of Loyola University, the route has been as incalculable as improbable, and has taken some eight years to conquer.
Isabel addressed a crowd of nearly 300 mostly women business and community leaders at the Metro Advancement Council’s 20th Annual Luncheon at the Union League Club on May 5.
Like most of the students at Metro and Midtown, she came from a home where the financial means were far more modest than the love and support she received. And things in her personal life were not quite clicking.
“I was shy and kept to myself,” she told the crowd. “My culture surrounded me and limited me. It was a safe zone that kept me from the dreams and dignity I now have.” Add to those challenges the fact that Isabel was an underperforming student.
“My mother and my grandmother told me I could be better, but I thought, ‘that’s what mothers and grandmothers are supposed to say’.”
Isabel’s mother, Cecelia, enrolled Isabel in Metro as a fifth-grader. “Soon,” said Cecelia, “Isabel began believing in herself. She began dreaming bigger things, things beyond our community.”
Like most meaningful change, that took time—time for Isabel to feel safe and trusting at Metro, time for her confidence to grow and time for setting goals that broadened her reach. And it has been a team effort. One of her mentors, Jody Madler, a member of the Metro Advancement Council and chair of the luncheon, “saw something in me that I did not see in myself,” said Isabel.
Erin Aldrich, director of Metro, another key contributor to Isabel’s success so far, said, “My relationship with Isabel has progressed slowly, but surely. We became a big part of each other’s lives. We had many conversations about acknowledging things that are ordered and disordered in our lives. We talked a lot about God and his unconditional love for each of us.”
To be sure, the relationship between Erin and Isabel was not always the smoothest. Improbably, their banter over baseball—Erin is a Brewers fan, Isabel is a Cubs fan—turned into a bond that bridged other differences.
In fact, Isabel’s dedication to the Cubs has convinced her she would like to find a career in sports marketing and, perhaps, become an author. Both of those dreams have been driven, in a large part, by the confidence instilled at Metro.
“Isabel has gone through many challenges in her life,” said Erin. “And, today, she sees herself as a leader, someone who can make the world better for all around her.”
“I am strong,” Isabel said to the crowd. “I am brave. I am a Metro alum.”
And, as she constantly reminds Erin, “a Cubs fan.”
Stay tuned for a follow-up article next week profiling MAC Luncheon speaker Chicago's NBC5 Reporter and MEF Board Member Zoraida Sambolin.