Strathmore High School

Many students rely on their mother for support. But what if your mother relied on you.

Stephanie Romero had to begin taking care of her family when her mother contracted Hepatitis C. The blood born disease attacks the liver and, in chronic cases, can cause liver failure and death. Stephanie said her mother in on the waiting list for a liver transplant, but is not sure if she will get one in time.

Stephanie said her mother was so sick that she missed two months of school during her sophomore year to take care of her and her younger siblings - Guillermo Maldonado, 4, and Cristina Maldonado, 12. Stephanie said the only income they have is the $200 her mother receives each month for welfare. She only went to one prom, with a borrowed dress, in order to save money for her family.

"I used to have a job but I just didn't have time," she said. "I don't like asking my mother's boyfriend for money because he has his own family to take care of. But I'm happy with the friends I have and my experience in high school."

The family shares a small two-bedroom home with her mother's boyfriend and his six children. Stephanie said the home offers little privacy as many of children sleep on the couch or share beds with one another.

"It's always loud because there are so many people," she said. "I can't get any work done so I would go sit and my car to do homework."

Romero played two years of soccer, an outlet for her frustrations with the pressures of heading a household. "I liked to take my anger out on the ball," she said. "It was hard just keeping up and balancing everything with my responsibilities at school and at home."

She found inspiration in her aunt, Barbara Kufchak, and is the first in her family to graduate from high school. "She taught me discipline and pushed me to do my best and supported me," she said.

Romero was also supported by her honors English teacher Vicky Edwards, who helped her apply for scholarships and to colleges. "She really understands and I can talk to her about anything."

During her four years at Strathmore High School, Romero also found time to work on the Associated Student Body, keep a pen pal and volunteer her time with the Friday Night Live, an organization that talks to students about the dangers of underage drinking and drinking and driving. One of her favorite activities was Link Crew, a program that matches seniors with freshmen to help them deal with the pressures of high school.

Now Romero will be the first in her family to go to college. "She won't be at the ceremony but I know that she really wanted to be here." She will attend Fresno State in the fall where she hopes to study medicine and help people like her mother.

"I am scared to leave my mom and I don't know what's going to happen," she said. "I worked hard for this and it means a lot to me and my family."

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