MISSION, Texas – Every Tuesday and Thursday morning Kenia Melo makes her way into the IDEA Mission cafeteria to begin her shift. It also happens to be the school from which she graduated as part of the programs Reaching Independence through Student Education or RISE Program.
“She does come from a family that is very poor. She also comes from a family where it’s a single mom and four other children and on top of that she also has a disability,” said Anna Gaona, Special Education RISE Teacher for IDEA Mission.
Kenia’s difficult journey began at the age of 6 when her mother migrated the family to the U.S. to begin a life in the Rio Grande Valley. Growing up, Kenia’s sister, Katia recalls each of her siblings taking turns to care for Kenia, but things started to change after she enrolled at IDEA Mission.
“Before that my mom’s plan for Kenia was, after she graduates, she’s going to be in a daycare and this and that. But as soon as she came to IDEA there was like a whole different possibilities,” Said Katia Melo, Kenia’s sister.
Through the IDEA RISE Program, Kenia would learn transitional and daily living skills. The staff at IDEA also wanted to teach her employment skills so they reached out to several departments at the school and found a good fit in the cafeteria.
“They loved her as who she was versus what kind of disability she had,” Gaona continued.
After graduating there was an opening in the cafeteria. Kenia applied and was hired.
Cafeteria Manager Cesar Rodriguez says Kenia is punctual and a fast learner. “She also does breakfast in the morning. She comes in at 8 and leaves at 12. She is a very good asset to our department.”
Kenia is also receiving a scholarship to attend CAMP University in McAllen through IDEA’s Give Me 5 Program which is funded by employee based contributions.
Staff at IDEA Mission also helped Kenia apply for DACA. Through that she was able to help her entire family obtain citizenship, creating big changes for her family who are all very proud of her success.
“We laugh because she got a job before I did and she got paid more than I did too,” said Katia Melo.
Anna Gaona says Kenia has taught her to be more of an advocate, rather than a mother, towards students with disabilities and Kenia’s success serves as an inspiration to her peers.
“Maybe more powerful than the rest of the people on this campus just because she knows the value of hard work and teamwork and how to be kind despite how cruel the world can be,” Gaona concludes.