by Christin Ayers and Jennifer Mistrot
OAKLAND (KPIX 5) — If there has been one constant in Evelyn Montiel’s life, it’s Evelyn’s Ice Cream. For over 20 years, her family has run the ice cream truck, as well as a frozen fruit stand, on Oakland’s east side. The sweet ice cream treats kept the family afloat financially but running the business required an all-hands-on-deck effort. So Evelyn often found her schedule stretched to the max, and her stress level very high.
When Students Rising Above first met Evelyn she was a junior in high school, straddling two worlds. On campus she was an A-student and class president. But at home she was in survival mode, working long nights at the ice cream stand, fighting to keep her family’s business alive, and its main source of income viable.
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“I became an adult very early in life,” she recalled of that time period. “It was like being two people at the same time.”
Despite the workload and stress, Evelyn still had some big goals. She wanted to be the first person in her family to go to college, and she was. But after a bumpy start at an East Coast college and a bout of depression, Evelyn dropped out. The silver lining: she was still very much a member of the Students Rising Above, or SRA, ‘family.’ SRA helped Evelyn apply and get accepted into a larger, more diverse school – the University of Southern California. Within one semester Evelyn was thriving at USC. During her school years, SRA also helped set Evelyn up in various internships; efforts that still marvel her.
“It was within the matter of a semester that I was at USC. It was so fast,” said Evelyn. “There was a whole army of people that were there to take care of me and to make sure I made it through and that I was prepared to enter the workforce.”
But when her time at USC was complete, the workforce was not prepared for Evelyn. She graduated at the height of the recession. No one, it seemed, was hiring. With her job prospects slim, Evelyn found herself back in East Oakland, working at her family’s ice cream business.
“Those were actually the months when I did cry,” she recalled. “I was, like, I went to USC. I was on the dean’s list every semester. I traveled, I did research, I did all this. I just finished a pre-MBA at Stanford and I can’t get a job. I’m here selling fruit in East Oakland. Like, I cried.”
But Evelyn said SRA would not let her slip through the cracks. The organization connected her with a job interview at a national investment firm that would launch her career in finance. She now works as a broker at a Silicon Valley startup that aspires to democratize the stock market.
But East Oakland is still Evelyn’s home. And her family – and their business – is still front and center in her life. It’s a life Evelyn says she could not have created without the help of her “second” family.
“I’m happy to be living my life right now. I wouldn’t ask for a better life … that’s the beautiful thing about Students Rising Above,” she said. “We’re kids that would not have gone to college. We’re kids that need a lot of help, guidance. We’re kids that need people to tell us we can do this and we are resilient and we can succeed because the rest of the world is telling us that we can’t. So I want to go back and tell them that story.”