It isn’t easy growing up in a foreign country, especially one with an entirely new set of customs, ideologies and a language barrier. However, for some, what seems to be an impossible feat becomes a catalyst for their success.

This couldn’t be any truer for USCB student and community worker Maribel Luna Sanchez.

Born in San Luis Potosí, Mexico, Sanchez moved to Beaufort County when she was 8 years old to follow her family’s pursuit of the American dream. Starting school, however, was difficult.

“I didn’t know how to communicate with my teachers, I couldn’t speak with any of my classmates, or even do my homework,” said Sanchez. “But I did have my older brothers and my parents who supported me.”

Working with her family and the community, she was able to learn English, succeed in the classroom and gain the scholarships necessary to attend college. Now 22, she is a senior at USCB, slated to graduate in December with a degree in human services, making her the first in her family to graduate college.

Inspired by both her family and the Latino community surrounding her, Sanchez began volunteering and offering social services to the community through various outreach programs such as Bluffton-Jasper County Volunteers in Medicine and PASOs. (See related article on page 1A.)

“I realized that all of these opportunities in volunteering aren’t actually paying me with money, but paying me with experience,” she said.

And those experiences have paid off. Sanchez now acts as the coordinator for the Beaufort-Jasper County PASOs Early Childhood initiative.

The new program works with Latino children up to age 5 to make sure that they’re progressing through the stages of development properly, while simultaneously educating parents on the resources available to their families.

Additionally, Sanchez has worked with other Latino students to start a school club called SOL, or Student Outreach for Latinos, a student-run organization that promotes education within the Latino community by visiting high schools, conducting workshops and more.

“Our mission statement is to encourage Latinos to further their education here,” Sanchez said. “Many don’t understand the entire process of college, or feel like it isn’t right for them.”

With graduation quickly approaching, Sanchez is seeking to take the ideas from the club and apply them to the wider community off campus.

She also is considering whether she might pursue a master’s degree in human services and social work.

No matter what path she chooses, Sanchez continues to forge ahead, taking strides to better herself, her work, and her community.

“Everyone has those days where they don’t feel like doing anything, where they may want to quit school or quit their job,” said Sanchez.

“A quote I always use to motivate myself is ‘Stop dreaming your life and live what you’re dreaming,'” she said. “Figure out what you want to do with your life and what you need to do to make that happen.”

Sam Posthuma is a freelance writer living in Bluffton.