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Roger Romero’s journey from El Salvador to Kingston, Ontario, although at a very young age, set the stage for his eventual rise to Manager of Pathways to Education in Kingston.   

Roger’s personal journey


His family fled the civil war in El Salvador. First his eighteen-year-old father, a member of the military, fled to the US, followed a year and half later by his mother and her two boys one of them a nearly two-year old Roger.
 
Roger told the story that when the person, whom they paid to get them across Mexico and into the US, came to the Rio Grand River, he dropped them on the Mexican side and just abandoned them to walk across the river. Trusting to God, because she could not swim and carrying the two boys she safely walked across to the USA. Eventually she linked up with her husband in Providence R. I.  However, as they entered the US as undocumented, they could not get any support available to documented newcomers.
 
Hence, the family joined a faith-based group through which they were able to enter Canada, sponsored by First Baptist Church in Kingston.  As a result, their physical needs were met, such as a house, being registered in school, and social services helping their family.  Roger made the point that such childhood trauma affects everyone, not just the child.
 
Roger now works in the area in which he grew up, Kingston’s “north” end. “North Kingston” housed the working-class builders of early Kingston. It was the last area of the city to get running water and for a long time had no modern supermarket. It was the kind of pocket of the population were access to health care, was very lacking.

Romero’s work with Pathways to Education Kingston began started in the mid-1980s. The Pathways office was a derelict plaza on Weller Avenue when he was a kid. There were no resources, no after school programs. Some families living in social housing were hooked on substance misuse. His parents were working for low pay, but long hours, leaving him with a lot of responsibilities as a child, looking after his five younger siblings. His journey to post secondary education was very difficult, the first of his family to do so.
 
Roger credits his success, not to his family but to those from the community who helped him along the way such as his soccer coach helped him keep his grades up and get support and teachers who saw something in him and supported him.

But through this, Roger found a calling where he was needed to support others.
 
After graduating from Brock, he landed a job in St. Catharines working in mental health with adults, but he wasn’t happy. A mentor gave him an opportunity to talk with young people with various needs and he loved it, so when a 12 hour a week job came up in his hometown, Kingston with a four-month-old program call Pathways he jumped at the chance.  
 
When asked “What’s the secret to supporting young people?” He replied, “Having caring adults that are not parents or family members.” “Youth,” he said, “Need caring and consistent adults in their lives.”  “Health” he continued “Is more than just a disease; it’s really about the support needed to help young people to be successful. We don’t want a predetermined outcome to be based on where they live.”
 
 

The Pathways to Education program


Key to this is offering students academic support, counselling, financial assistance, and after-school programming. GRAD Connector helps them navigate the academic system, from suspensions to scholarships.
 
Pathways serves around 260 students in their program, with about 40 to 50 new students each year. 31% go to college, 14% to university, mostly Queens and St Lawrence College. 23% are enrolled in upgrading programs from which they then continue with more courses. 31% enter the workforce.
 
One need from the community is connections to those companies which are willing to take on kids for work experience. They don’t have credentials to offer; most can only list that they are caregivers for their family. Adversity can be a superpower.

The Centre wants to grow by supporting more people. They have created a “Facilitator” program which Rotary is offering support for Pathways alumni. The program focus involves mentoring as they continue their education or jobs.
 
Formerly, Pathways didn’t continue to support them once they left for post secondary and they consequently saw a high dropout. The alumni program is looking at about 325 graduates.
 
Another void are the students who graduate and go into the workforce because they don’t have a career plan. Some of their grads come back to work for them. They offer a great deal because they’ve lived through the difficulties many of the students' face.

Romero on discrimination

During his talk Roger mentioned that he had faced discrimination. In a follow-up interview, he expanded on its role in his life today.
 
Today he said, he experiences what he calls “micro-aggressions”. “Things like you speak English really well” and “it’s really good to see someone like your people doing really well”. He calls them micro-aggressions because “Those little cuts add up to a big wound!” Another example Roger sighted is being invited to a meeting, looking around and finding no one other visible minority and feeling that he is a token representative rather than someone there to share his knowledge. “If we want to increase diversity, he said, “We want to do it in a positive way and not as appearing to be tokenism.
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