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Promise Student Series: Se hace una diferencia. / It Makes A Difference In Any Language

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Amy Olivares

We are happy to share this guest post by Meredith Rabick. Rabick is a Western Michigan University graduate who has lived in Kalamazoo for over 20 years. Her loves include travel, good food, and spending time with her husband and two teenage children.

What Amy Olivares loves most about Kalamazoo is its amazing sense of community. “I know it sounds cliché,” she explains enthusiastically, “but it really does take a community to raise a child, and Kalamazoo is such a great community!”

Growing up, Olivares valued the strong sense of community around her. She also valued the diversity and tolerance, and the opportunities those qualities make available. As a student at Kalamazoo’s South Middle School, Olivares participated in the bilingual program. There, she met people from greatly diverse backgrounds.

“There were so many different kinds of people from so many backgrounds. You just didn’t think about the differences,” Olivares fondly described.

Today, Kalamazoo’s diversity is still a draw for her and she takes advantage of the opportunities that diversity provides such as attending Mass in Spanish at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and spending time Salsa dancing with friends.

Olivares remembers as a senior attending Loy Norrix High School when she first heard about the widely acclaimed ‘Kalamazoo Promise’ and people talking about getting a free college education.

“I didn’t understand what that meant, I knew that going to college was important and expensive, but I didn’t know how important or how expensive.” Olivares went on, “I don’t think that I, or the other students, understood how much of a blessing it really was. We were just focused on getting through our senior year.”

Eleven years later, Olivares is in a better position to understand just how big a difference the Kalamazoo Promise made in her life. Amy went to Western Michigan University where she studied Spanish and Psychology. She describes receiving an invoice her first semester at Western with all of the costs that she did not have to pay. “I realized that, oh, that is why my parents were so happy.”

Olivares also took advantage of Western’s study abroad program, spending a semester studying in Queretaro, Mexico. Because the program in Queretaro is a WMU Exchange Program, the Promise covered all of Amy’s expenses except her plane ticket and spending money. Since then Amy has returned many times to visit friends made.

Upon graduation with her Bachelor of Arts. in Spanish from WMU, Olivares immediately entered a Master’s Program in Latin American Literature and Spanish Linguistics. Feeling strongly that the Promise made the transition from undergraduate to graduate school easier, she shared, “I didn’t have to worry about adding to a financial strain, because that burden did not exist for me because of the Kalamazoo Promise.”

Though the Promise did not pay for Graduate School, it made it easier for Olivares to save money and finance her own degree. Now working as a visiting professor at Grand Valley State University, Amy still lives in Kalamazoo on the days she is not teaching. “I love it here, I guess that is why I keep coming back.”

The Kalamazoo Promise had a profound impact on Olivares. But, what about a greater impact on the community that Amy loves so much? Olivares points to all positive attention that the Promise has brought to the community. She also sees evidence of growth in Kalamazoo over the last ten years, and points to the increased awareness of the value of shopping at local businesses. For her, it all comes back to community.

Olivares reiterates, “Kalamazoo is such a great community and the Promise is now the backbone of our community.”

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