Houston – Last week, Alondra Carmona’s mother summoned the Houston high school student and her sister to the living room. For months, she had kept a secret from them.
“I haven’t actually had a job for three months,” Carmona, 18, recounted her mother telling her.
Her single mother, she learned, had been laid off her job at the Port of Houston because of the pandemic, and was now two months behind on rent and faced the threat of eviction.
Carmona had a solution: Her mother could have all the money she had saved to attend Barnard College this fall – even if it meant she might not be able attend the top school after all.
“Everything was falling apart,” Carmona, a senior at YES Prep EastEnd, told The Washington Post. “My mom needed help. So, what am I supposed to do? That’s the least I could do… It doesn’t compare to everything that she has done for us.”
Carmona’s tale highlights the impossible choices millions of Americans have faced after losing their income amid the pandemic. While a federal moratorium is supposed to prevent evictions through March, advocates say many seniors, immigrants and other vulnerable groups are unaware of those protections.
According to the Eviction Lab at Princeton University, nearly 246,000 evictions have been filed by landlords during the pandemic, including tens of thousands with the moratorium in place.
In Carmona’s case, though, the story has a rare happy ending. After her story was featured on local TV and “Good Morning America” on Tuesday, so many have donated to a fund-raiser spearheaded by the teenager that she will no longer have to choose between continuing her education or keeping her home.
Last March, Carmona got a part-time job at a fast-food restaurant in Houston to help her mom, who had injured her ankle and was unable to work. The teenager, who wants to become a paediatric neurosurgeon, set aside the rest of the nearly $250 she made monthly for her college fund, she said. In the months to come, she applied to 11 universities, including Barnard.
In mid-December, Carmona learned she’d gotten into Barnard with a partial scholarship. She would be the first in her family to attend college.
“I was just really excited,” she said. “It was just unbelievable because I really thought I was going to get rejected or deferred. I come from a really small school and I thought all the stuff that I did, it wasn’t going to be enough.”
The scholarship wasn’t enough to cover Carmona’s full room and board at the New York school, but with the nearly $2,000 she had saved and some extra hours at the fast-food restaurant, she believed she could do it, she said.
She had also hoped Barnard might up her scholarship offer, but a financial-aid officer from the school told Carmona and her mom on Feb. 4 that it was not possible. “I muted myself so that he could not hear me cry,” Carmona said.
That same evening, Carmona’s mother told the family that she’d been laid off in November. She had hid the news and a debt of nearly $2,000 for two months rent because she did not want to worry them, Carmona recounted.
“I first learned about Barnard and then this,” Carmona said. “When she told me that, I was like, ‘Now I’m definitely not going to go’ … I really thought the world was going to end when the news hit me.”
The situation worsened on Tuesday, when Carmona’s mother found the door locked and a note informing her the family would not be allowed back inside the apartment unless they paid part of the owed rent. Like many tenants, Carmona said, her family was unaware that under the current federal protections the eviction threat was illegal. So, Carmona gave her mom all her savings to pay the back rent.
Meanwhile, Carmona created a GoFundMe page to try to raise the money back. She hoped to get close to $5,000.
But after her story was featured on KTRK and “Good Morning America,” Carmona’s fundraiser exploded. By early Thursday, the teenager had raised more than $143,000 – enough money to cover her full tuition and living expenses, she said.
She also plans to use some of the money to help her mom until she finds a job, and will continue working at the fast-food restaurant, Carmona said. She is expected to graduate by June and begin classes at Barnard in the fall.
Carmona said she hopes her story gives hope to others struggling in the pandemic.
“I never would have thought in a million years that this would blow up and so many people would be donating,” she said. “I want to tell all the first generation, low-income students like me that it is possible.”
The Washington Post