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Gianella Cruz: How a year of uncertainty was a blessing in disguise


Location | Bay Area

“Difficult struggles were looming as I started Year Up. I had lost my motivation, path, and confidence. I am proud to say I came out a stronger woman. It’s crazy how much change a year can offer.” 

Gianella Cruz faced steep challenges during the pandemic. Today, this hardworking Year Up alumna is fully committed to growth and adding value to her team. And she’s passionate about helping others connect to meaningful job opportunities.  

When Gianella moved to the United States from the Philippines at age 12, she was struck by how much less support and structure young people have in the U.S., especially when it comes to finding a career. In the Philippines, if she wanted to be a teacher or doctor, the steps she would need to take were clear.  

Upon graduating from high school, Gianella felt lost. She considered becoming an accountant, but she didn’t know how to make that happen. Which school should she attend? The first in her family to attend college, she didn’t know what type of college to look for. She ended up in community college, where even choosing the correct courses was unclear. 

Dropping out of college, Gianella defaulted to selling cars, something that almost everyone in her family did. And while she worked hard and enjoyed earning an income, her heart just wasn’t in it. Then the pandemic hit, and she was laid off. While she looks back on this now as a blessing in disguise, it was an extremely difficult year. Out of work, her bills piled up. She lost three family members to COVID-19. And one of her closest friends died in a tragic accident.  

I am proud to say I came out a stronger woman.

Gianella Cruz
Year Up Alumna | Project Analyst, Airbnb

Despite the loss and setbacks, Gianella kept moving forward. On the advice of friends, she joined Year Up, where she finally found the direction and support she longed for. For questions about her training, she knew she could count on her Program Manager. When she was struggling with personal hardships, Student Services was there to help. While her technical training in project management was highly valuable, the most important skill she learned was self-advocacy, as Gianella shared, “The more I was able to speak up about my values, the more people became convinced and believed in me.” 

Her hard work and self-advocacy paid off. Gianella transitioned from intern to full-time Project Analyst at Airbnb. “It meant so much to me to finally know I didn’t need to sell cars to make money!” she exclaimed. 

While she’s enjoying her role and sees a future for herself in technology, Gianella also plans to earn a degree in accounting, the field that initially interested her. She’s excited to explore how she can combine her project management and future accounting skills. And Gianella has a true passion for helping others. She’s referred several friends to Year Up and helped countless other young adults in her network find jobs.  

Gianella is especially proud to be a woman in a tech, a place she never could have imagined for herself. As a project manager, she didn’t realize positions like hers existed in technology, which is why she believes it’s especially important for donors to support Year Up.   

“People who have the capacity to give can help young adults like me who have grown up in different environments without the greatest resources and direction,” explained Gianella. “Year Up changed my world. You can always say there are more opportunities out there. But by showing us how to access these opportunities, you create tremendous hope.”  

During the height of the pandemic, Gianella joined Year Up, growing valuable skills and discovering her new career in the tech industry. Donate today to empower more young adults to gain access to life-changing careers.