Written by Sydney, 13, Los Angeles

Every day I make myself realize just how lucky I am. I have three beautiful and supportive sisters by my side, a mother and father who’d give the world for me, and a fluffy pup that brings joy to my heart. The roof over my head and the food on my table are my gifts. Something I cherish every day. As I walk with my cousin through her neighborhood (South Central Los Angeles) I can’t help but stay vigilant. Yet, my cousin shrugs off each crying siren and simply says “get used to it.” Still, I can see her keeping a watchful eye out for danger. Kids run through their streets as if nothing is wrong, playing out on their porches and backyards. Barefoot, through the cracked sidewalk and graffiti-infested walls.

Simple walks to the corner store or the donut shop are made long because she stops to greet all of her friends on the way. Everyone is family there. They all look out for one another and stay away from the “bad guys” on the block. “It ain’t so bad here. You just have to know who and where to stay away from.” She says nonchalantly. Although we’ve grown up together; we’ve taken totally different paths. There’s no doubt about that.

I grew up in Koreatown due to my hard working parents. Raising four girls must have been a hell of a ride. My mother, being of Filipino decent, has always incorporated religion into our lives. Baptism and devotion to the church was a must. My father was just as into it as my mother, but I have an agnostic outlook.

“Every day is a miracle” and “live life to the fullest” are the sayings of my mother. She is the glue to our family. Keeping us all together and refusing to let us forget who we are and where we came from. To me she is my savior. I look up to her because she goes after what she wants and doesn’t stop until she conquers.

Sometimes I forget that she is still human. Hard days at work cause her to come home, lock herself up in her room, and break into tears thinking no one can hear her. When I go into console her, she just looks into my eyes and says “Go to school and learn, work hard, so you don’t have to end up like me.” Those words will haunt me for the rest of my life.

Being the youngest of my sisters I have a somewhat paved road to the future. One is a reserve officer in training and the rest are finishing up their degrees at CSUN. I, however, have something else in mind. Once I get out of college I will do something that will make a difference in the world and give my mother everything she deserves out of life.

Determined to Succeed (an organization that identifies motivated, low-income students who show an exceptional determination to succeed, but who are at risk of getting lost in the system) has changed my life in an indescribable way. They take the kids that have their minds set on achieving, and give them a better chance to reach their dreams. They fill up our schedules so we stay productive in a fun, inspirational way. You are assigned tutors that care for you and are always there to give you an extra push. It’s like having a second family. I know I can reach out to them with any problem. That is the greatest feeling in the world. I feel incredibly blessed and honored to be a part of this family. I wake up every morning knowing I will succeed and conquer.

Sydney is an eighth grader, living, attending school, and conquering in Los Angeles, California.


by Haley Gilbert Fisher, Sydney’s Determined to Succeed mentor

I am a screenwriter in LA and wanted to find an outlet to work with kids in a creative and meaningful way. I started volunteering with Determined to Succeed over a year ago. DTS is a program that mentors students in low-income situations all through high school. I began my work with the seventh graders, and have stayed with them ever since. It is incredible how responsive, inventive, and participatory these kids are. When given the resources and the doors to walk through, these students jump at the opportunity to demonstrate how eager and passionate they truly are. I am lucky to be a part of the Determined to Succeed program and look forward to my monthly Saturday morning meetings with my group. We bring in guest writers, comedians, folk singers, actors, and TV producers to share their experiences.

These kids have flourished as a part of  DTS. My wish would be to make the creative writing workshop grow beyond just our classroom. For me personally, it’s rewarding watching students take advantage of their own ideas and creativity—to use their words to elevate their dreams.