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Student Success Story


Darleen Martinez


Growing up in a low-income family in Compton, California, Darleen Martinez could have felt the decks were stacked against her. But instead of becoming a victim of her circumstances, she chose to turn it into a drive to succeed. Darleen attended Firebaugh High School in Lynwood, where she excelled in Honors classes, actively served in extracurricular clubs and volunteer work, and graduated at the top of her class in 2010. The Center for Financial Empowerment was thrilled to award her with a $1,000 college scholarship that year.


While applying for our scholarship, Darleen completed some of our financial literacy courses that helped her look beyond the typical options to find additional resources for paying for college. “I think those courses led me to make better informed decisions about my college payment plan,” she recently told us.


Now Darleen is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley, where she received a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology. She was able to obtain multiple scholarships from the State of California and UC Berkeley, which allowed her to complete her education with less than $8,000 in student loans. She is still very involved in community service, and while she is currently working to pay the bills, she plans to start graduate school within the next year.


Darleen has inspiring words of advice for current and future high school students: “I would tell them to make sure they explore varied ways to pay for college, and to know there are different avenues for everyone into higher education.” She also wishes she had known more about the costs of living on your own while in college, so she recommends that teens take advantage of programs like the CFE’s Mad City Money to be better prepared.


We couldn’t agree more, so watch our newsletters for information about newly scheduled Mad City Money events. If you know a teen that could benefit from financial courses like Darleen did, the online modules from our partners at BALANCE Financial Fitness are a good place to start.