OUR LEARNER SPOTLIGHT: Carlos Santiago, 28, BeLit Learner

(Pictured with his mom, Marybell)

Growing up, Carlos was charismatic, kind, and engaging. As a child, he was heavily involved in his community and local dance groups. His energy was so vibrant that he was regularly featured in local articles and newsletters. However, Carlos’s entire personality changed when he started high school. His mother, Marybell, became concerned when she would come home from work to find him hiding, scared, and confused – a far cry from the buoyancy he had always exhibited. “To see him transition from that to the confused state he was in was very hard,” she said.

Desperate for help, Marybell voluntarily released him to the state to be placed in a group home where she believed he would receive support for his mental state and continue his education. However, Marybell learned of the severe neglect and abuse that Carlos was experiencing while in their care. He was not allowed to go to school and did not receive any of the services promised. “As a parent, I felt like he was being cheated out of his education,” Marybell said. The group home was eventually shut down; however, Carlos now needed more support than ever. He was self-harming and no longer recognized who anyone was, including himself.

Carlos checked in and out of hospitals, dealing with multiple misdiagnoses and a lack of options. At 16, Carlos was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Marybell searched endlessly for programs to help her son, however, the relevant only ones she found were for adults, not low-skilled teenagers. “How do you support someone with an illness when there are no services outside of the family?” she asked.

After years of experimenting with care options, Carlos bravely decided to re-approach his schooling. He explained that when his little brother and sister graduated from high school and then college, he was motivated to prioritize his education too. So, in 2021, Carlos’s case worker enrolled him at Beyond Literacy.

Since becoming a BeLit learner, Carlos has begun to thrive. Taking online classes with his teacher, Ms. Alex, has changed his life. Carlos feels so connected to BeLit and Ms. Alex, that when he stopped by to pick up a free laptop so he could attend virtual classes, he brought his teacher flowers to show his appreciation for her kindness, patience, and support. “Seeing him be able to connect to this program and to the person who is instructing it is the key factor to his success,” Marybell said. “This, to me, is a miracle.

“Carlos is an amazing person to work with. He brings his unique mix of curiosity, kindness, and good spirits to every class,” Ms. Alex says brightly. “I find his dedication and positive attitude inspiring, and I know many of his fellow learners do as well.”

Now, excited to wake up for class, Carlos is motivated to keep pushing forward. His family is proud of all he has already achieved and looks forward to when he can walk in his cap and gown. At BeLit, Carlos has regained his optimism explaining, “I think that with this program I am going to be able to succeed in life more than I ever have before.”

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