By ROGER MOONEY
CLEARWATER, Fla. – One day last summer during a school-sponsored trip to Spain and Italy, Jailine Garcia found herself at the Trevi Fountain in Rome. She held three coins; the exact change needed to make three wishes.
Custom at the famous tourist spot dictates your first wish must be to return to the ancient city. Jailine complied.
Her second wish was for good health.
As her final coin splashed into the crystal-clear water, she made a wish that, to those who know her, captured her spirit: Jailine Garcia wished to help others.
“I kind of want to do something in our world,” Jailine said. “I could do something with my family. That would be my start. Then do something bigger in the community.”
Jailine’s aspires to be the first in her family to graduate from college and break the family cycle of living paycheck-to-paycheck.
A senior honors student at Clearwater Central Catholic High School, where she attends on a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship managed by Step Up For Students, Jailine, 17, wants to major in pediatrics, psychology or neurology. She wants to help provide a better life for disadvantaged children and those with special needs.
She wants to help her parents care for Bella, her 11-year-old sister, who has developmental delays from a rare genetic disorder.
She wants to contribute to the family’s finances and help her parents enjoy their golden years, maybe take them to the Trevi Fountain when that first wish comes true.
Most of all, Jailine wants to reward her parents, Alexandria and Nicolas, for the sacrifices they have made enabling her to have a brighter future than they realized.
“I couldn’t be prouder of her,” Alexandria said. “She puts everything ahead of herself.”
She appreciates everything
During a pizza party last year for students hosted by Step Up For Students, Jailine was asked to write a short essay on what it means to attend a private school on the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship.
She began by detailing a childhood that some would consider less-than-ideal. She did not see her parents often because they were always working. The family bounced between living with Jailine’s grandmother and an uncle because her parents couldn’t afford a place of their own. She wrote of nights when there was barely enough food to feed her and her younger brother, Nicolas, now 14 and a freshman at a district school.
Then Jailine wrote this: “I never got many opportunities to repay my parents for all their sacrifices.”
The Garcias went without a lot of things so their children could have more.
“Jailine is so proud of her parents,” said Patty Ceraola, who teaches Spanish at Clearwater Central Catholic. “She just appreciates everything. Everything.”
Alexandria didn’t have it easy when she was Jailine’s age. She moved from New Jersey to Clearwater when she was 13. Her mom worked two jobs, so Alexandria had to care for her younger siblings. She made sure they got home from school and did their homework. Then she cooked dinner. By 8 p.m. she was exhausted.
She tried college but couldn’t afford it.
She married Nicolas when she was 18. Jailine came along one year later. Two years after that they had Nicolas.
Then came Bella, who has Potocki-Lupski syndrome, a condition that includes developmental delays and speech, eating and neurological issues. It also includes surgeries and hospital stays and doctor appointments. It is so time-consuming her father quit his job as a laminator to become Bella’s full-time caregiver.
Alexandria had a job with mandatory overtime, working 12 to 14 hours a day. They only time she would see Jailine was in the morning before school.
“I know it was hard for her,” Alexandria said.
Given the instability in her life, you could understand if Jailine rebelled. Instead, she threw herself into her schoolwork.
“She studied harder. She made sure she was making the grades,” Alexandria said. “She was working hard to show me what I’m doing was worth it.”
How do you say thank you?
While living in New Jersey, Alexandria attended Our Lady of Perpetual Hope, a small Catholic grammar school. She liked the small classes and the way the faculty and staff looked after the students. She liked the structure that comes with a religious education.
Alexandria wanted the same for her oldest daughter, so, with the help of a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, Jailine attended St. Cecelia Interparochial Catholic School from sixth to eighth grade.
After that, Jailine moved on to Clearwater Central Catholic, where she thrived as a freshman. She found the coursework motivating and the teachers eager to stay after class or after school to provide extra help.
But, Jailine longed to attend a Pinellas County magnet school for its medical program, and when a spot opened, she left Clearwater Central Catholic after her freshman year, intent on getting a jump on her career in pediatrics.
The move proved to be a mistake.
She found the teachers unavailable for extra help, the classes too big for her needs. In one, Jailine sat at the teacher’s desk, because it was the only available seat.
“It was an awkward transition,” Jailine said.
Her grades fell, and she worried if she was ruining her chance of attending a top university.
“It wasn’t long, but I knew it just wasn’t right,” Jailine said. “I was not doing well there at all. It was like, ‘OK, you might need to come back to CCC.’”
By the start of the second semester, Jailine was back at Clearwater Central Catholic. Back to its nurturing environment. Back to the honor rolls.
“Honestly,” Jailine said, “it was probably the best thing I have ever done.”
Alexandria, sitting next to Jailine in a spacious conference room on the high school campus, pumped her right fist, smiled and quietly said, “Yes.”
What mother doesn’t want to hear that confirmation from their teenage daughter?
“It makes us feel good, because we’re sending her on the right path,” Alexandria said. “And when she graduates, hopefully that path will take her to a better tomorrow, where she wants to go, where she favors to go.”
Jailine, who is in the International Baccalaureate program and is a member of the National and Spanish honor societies. She wants to attend the University of Florida, the next step toward realizing her dreams.
That school trip to Europe cost almost $6,000. Alexandria squeezed $157 out of her paycheck every two weeks, and Jailine took jobs babysitting children in the neighborhood. Her grandmother also contributed to the fund, so Jailine could visit places like the Basílica de la Sagrada Família in Barcelona, Spain, the Vatican, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and that legendary fountain in Rome.
How do you thank your parents for their sacrifices? In Jailine’s case, you work hard in school, tutor classmates in Spanish, help take care of your younger brother and sister – put everyone else first.
And, maybe someday, Jailine might reach into her pocket for a coin so her mother can make a wish at the Trevi Fountain.
“I think that would be a dream come true, the both of us,” Alexandria said. “Knowing that she went back, and I could be there with her, that would be awesome.”
Roger Mooney, marketing communications manager, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.