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Yesenia Cardenas, Lawyer - Junior Achievement Story

Junior Achievement Volunteers and Programs Helped Kick Start Her Success

Yesenia Cardenas, Lawyer

It isn’t easy growing up in an economically challenged inner-city neighborhood. Children in that situation face considerable challenges in trying to scale the economic ladder, but those difficulties did not prove insurmountable for Yesenia Cárdenas-Colenso. Now a successful attorney in Dallas, she has come a long way from that tough neighborhood of her childhood. The impact of adult mentors gave her the courage to tackle the challenges leading to her success and she is quick to acknowledge those that helped her along the way.

In 7th grade, Junior Achievement volunteers came to Yesenia’s school to teach children about personal finance, filing taxes, and entrepreneurial skills. She stated that, “For many of us, that was our only exposure up to that point about finances and financial responsibility. Many families didn’t have bank accounts. It was our first exposure to banking.”

Creating exposure and access to the skills for financial management are transformative for children. However, the power of Junior Achievement can be seen in the relationships forged along the way. “For me, it was not so much about the curriculum, but about how they influenced my life. I had never met a lawyer. I had never met a banker. That kind of exposure was most impactful.”

While a senior in High School, she was asked to speak before the National Business Hall of Fame Conference, which was taking place in her hometown of San Antonio. In her speech she talked about the impact that the volunteers and Junior Achievement had on her life:

When recently asked what she valued most about her involvement with Junior Achievement she answered, “The interaction with the volunteers. They were professionals — lawyers and accountants. Individuals we didn’t get exposed to. It was a sea change for me. We were seeing a different world, a different life. That’s what was important to me. I said, ‘I can do it.’ It was eye-opening for me and my character.”

Each of us needs someone in their life that believes in them, gives them hope to persist when the odds are stacked against them. No one gets to where they are in life today without the support of others. There is an ancient African proverb that says ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together’. Too many of the next generation are going nowhere fast, but as a Junior Achievement volunteer you can help a child go far.

The hope a mentor brings can make a difference, and as Yesenia says, “It gives you a certain level of confidence. It said you have intelligence, you have ability.”

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