My Story - Jennifer Navarro

Jennifer Navarro Burns speaking at the Family Litaracy ConferenceJennifer Navarro Burns was born in Colombia. As her parents were not able to provide care and support for their children, she and her younger siblings were raised by their grandmother. Since her father was in prison for drugs when she was born, Jennifer did not meet her father until she was seven years old.

Despite the struggle, Jennifer went to a girls' Catholic school and received good education - which installed in her the value of education and a sense of curiosity to get to know thing beyond. Jennifer admits that she was a rebel - she was not content staying inside her comfortable zone. When she graduated high school, she went to Bogotá, capital of Colombia and worked at a tattoo and piercing shop where she met a man from U.S. and became pregnant. She moved to California when she was eight month pregnant. The two hurried and got married just in time before their son was born - who is now six years old. She didn't speak English then.

Her husband was very protective of her - perhaps over-protective. Jennifer wasn't allowed to go out on her own or do much on her own.

"I was young. I wanted to learn, study and experience...but I wasn't allowed to go to college, drive or go out by herself," she recalls. "When I told him that I wanted to go to school and learn English, he instead bought me an online English program."

Since her husband worked during night, she took advantage of it and enrolled at Long Beach School for Adults while he sleeps during the day. There, she found out about the Family Literacy Program. She enrolled herself and her son who was two years old at the time. Hungry for interaction with society and education, she enjoyed studying English as Second Language and employability skills.

The husband was also verbally abusive. The last thing she wanted was to let her son see it. The husband would threaten her that he will call immigration if she tries to leave him, even though her status in the U.S. was completely legal. Without family, no close friend, nor good knowledge of English and immigration, she couldn't do anything but to endure her husband's abuse.

"I had education back in my country. I knew what to do. But here in the U.S. I have nothing," she thought. She knew the first thing she needed to do was to get education. With education, she can make good and informed decision and know her rights. She needed education to do better. In order to get education in the U.S., she needed to learn the language.

The Family Literacy Program gave her a good foundation. Once she completed ESL she found a job right away at SEARS. That was when she decided to separate from her husband.

She moved in with her son to a room in a house with a big family.

"I was so proud of myself when I was walking on campus carrying textbooks in my arms," she said. Completing ESL gave her the sense of accomplishment.

Then, in 2009, she enrolled in the Cerritos College Dental Assisting program. Her decision was 100 percent revolved around her son. As she didn't know anyone in California close enough and didn't trust anyone to take care of him. She needed a career that gives her flexibility and a good income. She needed weekends and holidays off to spend time with him. While in the Dental Assisting program, she found the field of dental hygiene.

Jennifer now works as a dental assistant and volunteers in the community and teaches people how to brush and what to do to take care of teeth. She also gives nutritional advice - she would love to study nutrition in more depth to be a nutritionist.

At the National Family Literacy Conference in San Diego this year she had an opportunity to speak about her experience in front of 1,000 people.

The response was overwhelming. After her speech, people stopped, congratulated and encouraged her to keep going. Her son, who accompanied her to the conference, said "mom, you've got so many fans!"

She thought she was a simple girl with a simple goal. The only thing she did was to share her story with them. One person tapped her shoulder and encouraged her after her speech. When Jennifer saw her name tag, it said 'Dorothy Bush Koch,' the youngest sibling of George W. Bush. The other person who stopped her to talk after her session was Wes Moore, author of the New York Times bestseller, "The Other Wes Moore" and host of "Beyond Belief" on the Oprah Winfrey Network.

"I've never imagined to be surrounded by so many important people in my life," said Jennifer.

She has completed all of her prerequisites and hopes to get in the Dental Hygiene program next year. Her goal is to provide a good life for her son. It sounds simple but it is extremely hard to accomplish for a single person. However, she is determined and focused.

She still thinks about going back to Columbia every second - but the last thing she wants for her son is to go through a life without a father that she went through.

No matter what happened between her ex-husband and her, her son has a good relationship with the father. She cannot take the father away from her son, she says.

She gives health and medical related advice to her family in Colombia to show what she is learning. Her family in Colombia is happy for her but they haven't seen her accomplishment. Her goal is to one day support them and show them what she accomplished.

With her determination and unwavering focus, it won't be too long to see the single mother make it all happen - for her son and her family.