Santonio - Illinois

Author: BHGH Web Admin/Monday, February 17, 2014/Categories: National Success Stories

Santonio - Illinois

Chicago collegian SANTONIO’s drive was evident from an early age. Raised by a single mother in the Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood—an area blighted by poverty and gang violence—he took on the responsibility of getting himself and his younger brother to school in Rogers Park, an hour and a half away via two trains and two buses, on his own.

In seven years, he and his brother were never late once But shouldering that responsibility didn’t come without a price.

“I had to become the man of the house when I was six,” he says, “And I had a lot of anger built up. I took care of my brothers, I did the shopping, and I didn’t have my father around.”

But he soon learned to channel his anger into something productive. When he was seven years old, a mentor suggested that he try wrestling—a suggestion that changed his life.

“Wrestling saved my life,” he says. “I had ten friends I was close to in elementary school. Half of them are dead, half of them are in prison. It kept me busy, focused, and gave me the structure I needed and goals to meet. It’s made me who I am. It taught me discipline, hard work, and self-sufficiency. When it’s just you and an opponent on the mat, you can’t blame anyone else if you fail. It’s up to you to win or lose on your own. “And like my coach says,” he adds, “after wrestling, everything’s easy.”

He came to Boys Hope Girls Hope at the age of 14—another watershed event in his life. “For the first time in my life, I had access to all the things I needed,” he says. “It gave me the opportunity to go to a top school academically. I always had the ambition, but BoysHope gave me the opportunities.”

He continued wrestling and playing football after he came to Boys Hope Girls Hope at the age of 14, and throughout his high school career at Loyola Academy (where he also played football), taking 3rd and 5th in state, and 10th in National for Greco-Roman wrestling.

Now studying business at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he’s continued wrestling, racking up an impressive 13-3 season. He plans to try out for the U.S. Olympic team in 2016.


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A Note from Erika Madrigal Martinez, 2002 Girls Hope graduate

As a freshman in high school, I did not understand the impact that Girls Hope (GH) was going to have in my life.  Looking back at the past ten years, I can honestly say that my enriching experience at GH propelled me to become the strong, confident, and independent woman that I am today.  Most importantly, GH allowed me to build relationships with people that, to this day, have been there to encourage, support, and guide me throughout all of my endeavors.  In other words, GH not only provided me with the tools to succeed as an individual, but it also gave me the opportunity to gain a second family.    
I first learned about GH through the secretary at my church who was also a good friend of the family.  She recommended that I apply to the program because she was aware of my parents’ desire to provide me with the best education despite the economic challenges that they faced.  As soon as my parents became aware of what GH provided, they knew that it was the life-changing opportunity they had been praying for.  I, on the other hand, was originally hesitant to leave home, but as soon as GH opened their doors to me, my apprehension disappeared, and success became my new reality.   
During my time at GH, I was exposed to a myriad of educational, social, and career opportunities.  For instance, GH provided me with a family-style and value-centered residential home, a scholarship to a private high school, tutoring, and continuous encouragement so that I could reach my academic potential.  In addition, GH introduced me to a limitless world where everything is possible and instilled in me the idea that goals can be reached.  As a result, I was able to attend Pepperdine University, study abroad in Argentina, intern in a congressional office, and participate in a nine-month, prestigious fellowship program in Washington, DC.  Moreover, following my fellowship, I was hired by the United States Department of Justice, Office of Immigration Litigation. There I was able to learn extensively about immigration law and even had the opportunity to meet Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor.  These, among other experiences, have allowed me to grow and have paved my way towards an even brighter future.   
In addition, the people that run GH have been key contributors to the positive experience that I have had.  The sponsors, staff, and house parents have, in many unique ways, shaped my life.  They have served as a reliable support system in which I have not only found inspiration and encouragement, but also comfort and love.  GH not only represents an educational opportunity, but also a life-long relationship that I truly cherish.  I feel privileged to be part of such a great organization that has and continues to impact my life in wonderful ways.