Former GEAR UP Student Gives Back to Community

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SAN JUAN — A former GEAR UP student is focusing her efforts on her community. After going through the GEAR UP program, it’s been a goal of hers to help others.

Maria Ibarra said college is important and wants to help others achieve a bright future.

“I have been with GEAR UP since I was in seventh grade. I graduated, so it followed me from seventh grade all the way to senior year. I think one of the things that I took from GEAR UP is that there is a community ready to help you and to provide the resources that you know you're lacking,” Ibarra said.

The former GEAR UP student is a researcher and adult literacy specialist at La Union del Pueblo Entero in San Juan.

Juanita Cox, executive director for LUPE, said GEAR UP transformed Ibarra into the professional she is today.

“These are youngsters that have gone through the school system, that have been prepared. You hear about programs like GEAR UP, but until you really ask, you really find out exactly what they do,” Cox said. “You become so impressed with the program. It's helped so many of the young people, Maria being one of them.”

Ibarra said GEAR UP paved the way for her future.

“Coming from a family who never had a high school graduate and a college graduate, I truly believe that college education is the key to your future, and that GEAR UP can help you get there,” Ibarra said.

Ibarra said giving back to her community was her first goal after college.

“We live in the Valley and, unfortunately, there's a lack of resources. And I feel that because I have been given opportunities that would otherwise have not been there before, feel that I have to put back my grain of sand into our community and open doors and opportunities for those that come after me,” Ibarra said.

“I’m very proud of Maria and other students, like her, who are always thinking… ‘My community helped me, how can I help my community?’ It means a lot to us. We are very proud of Maria and our GEAR UP students,” said Norma McCormick, an education specialist with Region One GEAR UP.

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