A Rose for JenniferFeatures, Top Reads — February 16, 2012
By Carmen Murillo-Moyeda
For the last three years, Jennifer Sanchez has struggled with the challenges of providing for a special-needs child and putting herself through college while working several jobs.
“It’s been quite challenging dealing with both the emotional stress of raising an autistic son who requires special attention, therapy and rigid schedules, while meeting my financial obligations of college,” said Sanchez. “But I’ve definitely been blessed with resources to help us along the way.”
Sanchez is 30, a nursing student at Cal State San Bernardino, raising her child on her own and just the candidate for the $1,500 Rose Brown Scholarship. The award, established in 2000 by Jack Brown, son of Rose Brown and chairman of the board of Stater Bros. Markets, was a tribute to his mother for the strength and courage she showed raising him alone as a young widow.
Created specifically to assist widows and single parents raising children alone, the scholarship was established to encourage them to follow in the footsteps of Rose Brown, to “never give up” and to follow their dreams of a college degree. Rose Brown passed away at the age of 91 last August. Angela Amlani, Gina Florez and Janelle Nunez also received scholarships.
Sanchez, who lives in San Bernardino, had received her associate of science degree from Crafton Hills College in anatomy and physiology in 2004, but wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. She held a variety of part-time jobs in customer service, insurance sales and as a lab technician.
Several years later, Sanchez discovered she was pregnant and soon ended an abusive relationship with the baby’s father. She chose to keep her baby and raise it alone. In January 2008, Sanchez gave birth to a baby boy, Elias Knapp-Sanchez, two months prematurely.
Devastated by seeing the tiny frail body in an incubator attached to feeding tubes, she waited anxiously for two days before she was allowed to hold him. Elias’ digestive system had not fully developed, and he remained in the neo-natal intensive care unit at Loma Linda Hospital for one full month before she could take him home. Day after day, nurses in ICU looked after her infant son. She finally took him home when his weight reached five pounds.
Although she knew it would be a financial struggle, Sanchez resigned from her job and stayed home with her baby to provide the special care he needed. Living on credit cards during the first year of Elias’ life, she quickly grew heavily into debt. She knew she had to make a plan to secure their financial future.
As she pondered what to do, she thought back to how enormously touched she’d been by the nurses at Loma Linda. It suddenly clicked that nursing was the career path she would pursue. Just as the nursing staff had supported and comforted her during her son’s critical incubation period, she wanted to provide care to newborns in ICU and help other parents survive similar ordeals.
By the fall of 2009, she was accepted readily into the nursing program at CSUSB and transferred with a 4.0 GPA.
But by the time Elias was 2, Jennifer noticed that he was not developing at a normal pace. He was unable to join simple word phrases. He grunted sounds and motioned when he wanted something. He walked on his tiptoes. Seeming frustrated with his inability to communicate with her, he would become aggressive.
Elias was diagnosed with autism when he was nearly 3 years old. Sanchez says she knew very little about the neurological disorder. Feeling alone without anyone to guide her, she began doing her own research about the disorder and investigated the resources available for those affected with it.
She found the Inland Regional Center, the largest nonprofit, private agency in California right in her own backyard. The agency contracts with the state Department of Developmental Services to provide services and support for individuals with developmental disabilities, such as free assessments to those without medical insurance and funds for required therapy.
Although it was an involved and lengthy process to be deemed eligible for services, Sanchez’s persistence paid off. Elias now receives therapy intervention five days a week and attends a special pre-school three hours a day.
Fourteen months later, he now talks in complete sentences, has learned how to control his emotions and channel physical reactions appropriately.
Sanchez says the road to her college degree has been bumpy, fraught with financial worries and the challenges of caring for her Autistic son as a single parent. There were many times when she was tempted to stop attending college due to the many demands of caring for her child. But her mom would encourage her to continue her path and not give up, often citing Bible verses. Sanchez will finally graduate this June with her bachelor’s in nursing.
The San Gorgonio High School graduate says she is grateful for the financial assistance that scholarships have provided. Maintaining a 3.9 GPA, she applied for many scholarships this year and received six, including the Health Resources and Services Administration nursing scholarship and one from Zonta International Foundation.
Sanchez, who works part-time as a student nurse at San Bernardino Community Hospital, says her parents have been a tremendous source of support, providing day care for Elias while she attends classes and works, and, thanks to the program, they are learning how to effectively interact with him.
“They have been my rock through their strong faith and support. They have truly shown me that I can succeed at anything I want when I make up my mind about it.”
As the first in her family to attend college, Sanchez says no one had ever really encouraged a higher education. But she won’t be the last. Her younger brother, David Sanchez, has followed in her footsteps and will also graduate from CSUSB with a business degree this June.
“My parents are so proud that both my brother and I will graduate with our college degrees this spring,” said Sanchez. She plans to pursue a master’s in public health.