Back-to-School… With the Help of KEYS

All it takes is one person to change your trajectory in life. For Mayde Creek high schooler Lilly Cornelio, that person was Manuela Izaguirre – a stranger who helped her achieve her dream of going to college.

Manuela-Use2Hardships and Hurdles

While most high school girls are thinking about prom and makeup, Lilly Cornelio’s reality wasn’t as carefree. Her mother was deployed to Iraq, she lived with a grandmother who didn’t speak English, and the family had an abundance of financial woes.

Lilly’s grades started to slip drastically in middle school. That’s when a counselor thought it would benefit the teen to build a relationship with a mentor. Manuela, a student recruiter with HCC Northwest, and Lilly were introduced through Katy Independent School District’s KEYS (Keep Encouraging Youth towards Success) mentoring program in 2008.

A Bond through Mentoring

Lilly and her mentor bonded over their similarities – both are Katy residents, Hispanic, shy and first in their families with aspirations to attend college. Through the KEYS program it didn’t take long for Lilly’s counselors to notice a huge improvement in her confidence and grades.

Manuela is just one of 989 mentors who help nearly 1,000 students in the KEYS program. Piloted in 1995 by Katy ISD, KEYS mentors are adults with knowledge and experience to share, who have the desire to motivate students to reach their full potential.  They commit to one student for one hour per week during the school day. So far, the organization has reported that 80 percent of students involved in the program have a decrease in discipline referrals and 69 percent have decreased absences and improved grades. The organization also provides scholarships to graduating seniors in the program and has awarded more than $80,000 since its inception. Lilly was a recipient of this scholarship.

Onward to College

The student recruiter turned mentor helped Lilly fill out college applications, study for tests and navigate the frustrations of high school throughout their six year relationship. With encouragement and friendship, Lilly is now a recent graduate of Mayde Creek High School with plans to attend community college in the fall. Manuela, nominated KEYS Mentor of the Year in 2013, was also motivated by her volunteering experience with the KEYS program and will pursue her Master’s in Counseling at University of Houston in fall 2014.

“Being the first in my family to attend college is difficult because there aren’t many people that I can talk to about the admissions process or the many questions involved with life after high school,” said Lilly. “Manuela has been an extremely positive role model in my life because she not only helped me realize that I could go to college, but she’s also shown me that where I’m from or what I’ve been through shouldn’t stop me from making a better life for me and my family.”

HCC has been involved in the Katy community for more than 30 years and has close partnerships with the Katy Area Chamber of Commerce, Katy Area Economic Development Council and Katy ISD, to name a few.

“I am fortunate to work for HCC because they encourage me to contribute to the communities we serve,” said Manuela. “Volunteering with the KEYS program was a way to give back to someone who was like me in school. I hope that my efforts have impacted Lilly’s outcome in a positive way.”