Watch CBS News

Family's Hard Times Motivate Bay Area Scholar In Quest To Become Social Justice Lawyer

by Michelle Griego and Jennifer Mistrot

(KPIX 5) -- Jenny Mendoza is a strong, independent young woman, and a role model for others. On a recent weekend afternoon, she spent some time at a neighborhood meal, sharing with friends and family her many accomplishments as a college student, including internships and academic success.

But Mendoza has also seen her share of tough times. During the economic downtown and subsequent housing crisis, her family lost their home to foreclosure. There were also troubles within the family.

LEARN MORE: Students Rising Above

"So growing up, my dad ... he did drink a lot," shared Mendoza. "And you know, there was other instances of, like, domestic abuse."

Education became Mendoza's salvation, a way to cope with the challenges her family faced.

"I found school to just be a home," recalled Mendoza. "Like a home away from home, a safe space for me."

Soon she was accepted to college. But when the school year started, new challenges emerged. Her parents divorced, and Mendoza struggled.

"And I thought that, you know, those challenges are really what breaks students in college," recalled Mendoza. "It's not the academics. Academics you can get help for. Where do you get help for your life?"

Mendoza received support from Students Rising Above, and others. While the experience would eventually inspire her to help and mentor other young people who find themselves in difficult situations, Mendoza acknowledged it was tough. But being away from home at such a difficult time also proved be a blessing of sorts, as the distance allowed Mendoza to see her parents and community from a new perspective.

"Just seeing the pain that a lot of women in my community went through, and just also the men. You know, there's a lot of toxic, toxic masculinity and just all this pressure as well," said Mendoza. "I think that recognizing that and knowing that ... that's a very prevalent thing in our community really just made me understand how I cannot become that. I really wanted to just be the change."

Mendoza made a commitment to herself: she would be an example to her family and community. Mendoza plans on becoming a social justice advocacy lawyer. She has sought good mentors of her own, like Cynthia Chandler, Director of Bay Area Legal Incubator - a group of lawyers dedicated to providing affordable legal service.

Chandler says she was impressed by Mendoza's commitment.

"So Jenny is super smart, incredibly caring, really thoughtful, and frankly, what I would expect from folks coming to me from Students Rising Above," said Chandler. "And that's what every employer's dream is, is to work with folks who are dependable and who have heart and who have grit."

Now as Mendoza heads towards summer break, she's looking forward to new opportunities to learn and grow. Among those, another internship with help from Students Rising Above. But her number one priority is to stay true to herself.

"I kind of want to just really branch out and go elsewhere," explained Mendoza. "And just find the resources I need so that when I do come back, I can help my community adequately, you know, and I can do so."


View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.