At the ripe age of 18, Alondra Carmona is already making adult-like decisions — and when it comes to her mom, no sacrifice is too big.
Carmona, a high school senior, gave her mom all the money she’s been saving for college in order to avoid eviction from their apartment in Houston, Texas.
Martha Zepeda, Carmona’s mom, is a single mother to her and two other siblings. She lost her job as a longshoreman at the Port of Houston three months ago, and hid the news from her family.
Carmona and her siblings found out about their mom losing her job last week during a family talk. They also learned that Zepeda was behind three months on rent.
“My mom is so hard working, so when she told me she lost her job, it wasn’t difficult for me because I knew she needed the help,” Carmona told CNN. “I just didn’t want her to feel bad and she didn’t want me to stress out.”
An estimated 9.2 million renters who have lost income during the pandemic are behind on rent, according to a December 2020 analysis of Census data by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has presented a historic threat to our nation’s health,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the US Center for Disease Control’s new director, said in January. “It has also triggered a housing affordability crisis that disproportionately affects some communities.”
Millions of struggling renters caught a much-needed break thanks to a federal eviction moratorium, put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September, that prevents property owners from evicting renters for non-payment of rent. The moratorium was recently extended through the end of March.
Carmona said neither she nor her mom knew about the order.
“A lot of people are struggling,” Carmona said. “To help them out, don’t evict them and instead spread more information about eviction, because I didn’t know and I wish someone had told me so that I could have told my mom.”
After giving her mom all of her college savings, Carmona launched a GoFundMe to ask the public for help in funding her studies and mom’s rent.
Stuck between a rock and a hard place
The teenager bounces back and forth between Zepeda’s two-bedroom apartment and her older sister’s home also in Houston because her mom doesn’t have WiFi.
“I beat myself up for not knowing,” she said. “I should have noticed more signs to know that she wasn’t working.”
But without hesitation, Carmona knew she had to give up the money she had in her college savings account to stop her mom from being evicted.
Through internships, research projects and a part-time job at Chipotle, Carmona had managed to save $1,800. Her mom’s rent is $800 a month and she was behind $2,000.
In February 2020, Zepeda broke her ankle and wasn’t able to work, according to Carmona. She recovered but when the pandemic started, that just added to the ongoing financial problems the family had, Carmona said. In November, her mom lost her job altogether.
On Tuesday, Zepeda tried to get into her home but the landlord had locked both the front and back doors to the apartment, Carmona said.
“They (the apartment complex) told her that they just needed $500 and then she was able to get back into our apartment.”
Carmona said her mother plans to pay the remaining balance this week with the money she gave her.
On the cusp of forfeiting a dream
In December, Carmona was accepted into her dream school: Barnard College, a private women’s liberal arts school in New York City.
“I looked into the program, the school, the campus, everything, I just fell in love with that school,” she said.
“I was making my application the best it can be and I didn’t think I was even going to get in. I worked so hard to get here, but I had to accept that I wasn’t going to be able to go.”
Barnard gave Carmona a $60,000 grant — and while she said she’s incredibly grateful, she was still worried about how she and her family would be able to afford a complete four-year program.
Tuition for the 2020-2021 school year at Barnard is $55,781 and the standard term bill, including fees, room and board, is $73,171, according to the school.
“There’s no way we were going to be able to pay that every year,” Carmona said, especially with her mom out of work now.
While Barnard said they can’t comment on the financial situation of any specific student, Jennifer Fondiller, Barnard’s Vice President for Enrollment and Communications, told CNN in a statement the school is “honored and excited to welcome Alondra next year.”
“We already have and will continue to work with her and all of our students to make Barnard affordable to those with need through generous financial aid programs,” she said. “Alondra’s dedication to her family, not to mention her community’s support of her, are ideals perfectly aligned with the tight-knit Barnard community.
Strangers helping strangers
Carmona created a GoFundMe as a last ditch effort to save her college dream.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Carmona has raised over $126,000. Her original hope was to raise enough money to help pay for two years of school — but thanks to the generosity of so many strangers, she said now she’ll be able to afford all four years of her program and continue to help her mom with rent until she finds work again.
“I’m just so thankful for everyone because they made my dream come true,” she said. “We’re so grateful to everyone because they helped us when they really didn’t have to.”
Carmona has plans to pursue a degree in Neuroscience with a minor in Latin American studies. She hopes to continue her education and get a PhD.