On a sunny Monday afternoon in early March, eighteen-year-old Leonel Aguila-Martinez was busy doing his homework just like most college students.

Leonel is working through his prerequisite classes at Kalamazoo Valley Community College and will start taking nursing classes soon.

"My grandmother inspired me to be a nurse because she was a nurse in our country," Leonel says.

Their country is El Salvador. Leonel moved to the United States alone as a teenager three years ago to pursue a "better life and an education." His grandmother was also the one who inspired him to come to the United States.

"I did volunteer work with my grandmother in our country, and I really started to love everything about medicine."

In 2020, Leonel was the first student to earn the Jerry A. and M. Christine Walker Scholarship, a new scholarship fund at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation. The scholarship is helping him pursue a degree in nursing. When he finishes nursing school, he hopes to work as a medical assistant. His ultimate goal is to be a pediatrician. He is taking his dreams one step at a time, but achieving them has come with some challenges.

"I was thankful when Kalamazoo Community Foundation helped me because I got a scholarship for school and the money leftover covered my housing," Leonel says. Because he’s not able get a job permit, he couldn’t work .

He also says learning English was a challenge. "It's so difficult to learn another language. I'm still learning. My English is not perfect, but I hope it will be one day."

Despite the language barrier, he started high school September 2019 and completed all the courses he needed for his diploma by June 2020.

"It usually takes four years to finish," he laughs.

In addition to navigating a new language and pushing through school, Leonel has been learning to play a variety of instruments for fun. "I love music," he says. "I play violin, guitar and I'm starting piano." He received a scholarship from Crescendo Academy of Music, a local music school, to take violin and guitar lessons.

In the future, he wants to provide free violin and guitar lessons for boys who've come to America alone.

He encourages students to work hard and take advantages of opportunities. "In my country, there are thousands of students who want to go to a university, but they don't have the opportunity to go because they don't have the money, or they have to work to help their family."

Want to learn more about starting a scholarship fund? Call 269.381.4416 and get connected to one of our Donor Relations Officer.

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