Unique Castañeda’s father needed a little help.
His daughter was smart and kind-hearted, but he feared she was falling behind in her public school and getting lost among the wrong crowd. He reached out to Operation Progress when she was nine years old and watched its mentors give her a push in the right direction.
“I’ve learned how to be responsible,” Unique said. “Since they put us in a private school, they’re really strict on us. My other school was really different. I’ve made great friends here and learned with them.”
Both in the classroom at St. Lawrence of Brindisi and at the OP offices, Unique finds those friends motivating her to work harder and learn more. She also credits her OP mentor, Lieutenant Emada Tingirides, with teaching her empathy, compassion and self-esteem.
“She taught me to be kind to others,” Unique said. “If someone isn’t kind to you, you can’t just get mad. You never know what they’re going through or what their situation is.”
She looks forward to OP outings to Dodger games, art lessons, rock climbing and trips to Disneyland, but is focusing even more on her long-term goals. She hopes to matriculate into St. Mary’s Academy for high school, then onward to college and a career as a teacher. She’s already taking a page from Lt. Tingirides’s tutorials and begun mentoring her younger siblings, pressing them to dream big the way she now does.
“It seemed like it would be impossible,” Unique said. “I didn’t think I’d ever make it in a private school. But OP helps you be positive and trust yourself. I can believe in myself now.”