Through Year Up, Sam, Stephanie, and Chris redefined success for themselves. Today, they are Year Up colleagues lifting others as they climb.

Sam Rivera (left), Stephanie Cuevas (second from left), and Chris Mora (front) on the Alumni Relations team 

Sam, Stephanie, and Chris shared the same schools and neighborhoods but never crossed paths. It took Year Up and a shared passion for their fellow alumni to bring them together.

After high school, Sam Rivera found herself taking courses and working low-wage jobs while pregnant. On the advice of a friend, she looked into Year Up Rhode Island, but the timing wasn’t right. She chose instead to focus on her baby, saving enough to stay home with her newborn for three months. Afterward, she applied to Year Up, and, when Mila was five months old, Sam entered the class of January 2015.

Juggling classes, internship, work, and motherhood was difficult, but Sam met the challenges head-on. “Year Up gave me something solid to stand on,” she said. When she struggled to get consistent, affordable childcare, Student Services staff lent a hand, even going to meetings with her and helping with the paperwork. “This is one small way Year Up showed up for me,” she explained.

As she learned who she was and what she had to offer, Sam’s confidence grew. The support she received also led her to a mindset shift. “When my journey at Year Up started, it was very much about Mila and me. Now I’m able to focus on much more outside myself.”

As an HR intern at Amica, Sam spoke to the marketing department about Year Up. Ultimately lifting as she climbed, she paved the way for Stephanie Cuevas’s internship.

Spending much of her childhood in the Dominican Republic, and raised by a single mom, Stephanie grew up in Providence not far from Sam. When her mom needed help making ends meet, Stephanie dropped out and picked up minimum wage jobs. Two years later, she wasn’t seeing a way forward.

Like Sam, a friend told Stephanie about Year Up. She might even have been in the same class as Sam, but Stephanie postponed applying, choosing to save up so she could work less once the program started. After six months, she joined Year Up Rhode Island.

Having the staff rally around Stephanie left a lasting impression on her. “There truly are people who genuinely care about you,” she said. Over time, she discovered a similar desire to care for others. “One thing I learned about myself is that I have an altruistic spirit,” she shared. Stephanie was the first social media intern at Amica Insurance, a position influenced by Sam’s conversation six months earlier.

Like Stephanie and Sam, Chris grew up in Rhode Island too. In fact, he attended the same high school as Stephanie, but they never knew each other. Born in Mexico, Chris was what DACA called a DREAMER. But without legal status, Chris saw little future beyond his under-the-table restaurant job.

However, Chris felt he owed it to himself to do something that would challenge him intellectually. On a friend’s recommendation, he applied to Year Up. And was turned down.

Devastated but not deterred, he applied again. Successful this time, he entered the same class as Sam, which is where the two first met. Like Sam, he also lifted as he climbed, referring others to Year Up, including his brother, cousin, and friend.

Chris’s internship in the charitable giving department at Alex & Ani’s helped him discover what he really wanted: to work for an organization directly impacting the lives of others like him.

Though their journeys were different, their shared passion for helping others inspired Sam, Stephanie, and Chris to choose Year Up again, this time as staff members. Each initially started on the Admissions and Recruitment team. Then all three chose to relocate, so they could be more effective in their positions. And today, they’re empowering and supporting graduates of the program as members of the Alumni Relations Team: Chris in engagement, Sam in communications, and Stephanie in operations.

These young adults want to serve their fellow alumni, because it’s personally important to them. “I think we all need champions to propel us forward. I’m excited to do what Year Up did for me for somebody else,” explained Sam. “Being able to serve people that walked the same path as I did is very rewarding,” said Stephanie. Chris summed up their shared commitment to the Year Up community: “Just because we’ve found success doesn’t mean we abandon the neighborhoods we come from, because there are still plenty of people who need our help.”

Ready to start your Year Up story? Apply to Year Up today! Want to know more? Be inspired by  alumni stories and get more information on how you can transform your life in just one year.