A janitor’s job isn’t easy. Thousands of Angelenos spend late nights and early mornings cleaning high-rise buildings and offices throughout the city, oftentimes earning some of the county’s lowest wages. Between the grueling work, long hours, and sleepless nights, many of them also have the added responsibility of raising a family. Alejandra and her family are a great example. She saw firsthand her father’s struggle to juggle the busy routine of a full-time job with the responsibility of being a full-time parent. 

On an average day, Alejandra’s father starts work at 4:00 p.m. and doesn’t come home until 3:00 a.m. And on top of that, he’s also the family’s sole breadwinner -- taking care of his four children and his wife, who hasn’t been able to work after suffering complications following the birth of their twins in 2009.

“She was in and out of the hospital for almost a year due to an infection after she gave birth to my fraternal siblings,” explained Alejandra.

This was a trying time for their family. Her father continued to work strenuous hours as a janitor, spent mornings with his wife in the hospital, and looked after their two eldest kids -- Alejandra and her sister -- at all other times. Alejandra saw the struggle her parents were going through and knew she had to step up and be present for her family.

“I realized my position as the eldest sibling and had to mature really quickly. Because my mom was sick, I took care of my siblings and made sure I was always a good example for them,” she said.

This isn’t an easy feat for anyone, let alone a young woman in high school. But the experience made Alejandra realize that going to college would be the key she needed to unlock a better future for herself and her family.

But she knew she couldn’t do it alone. With little knowledge regarding the intricacies of higher education, Alejandra encouraged her father to seek guidance from SEIU United Service Workers West, a union that represents more than 40,000 janitors, security officers, airport service workers, and other property service workers across California.

“He would attend educational meetings hosted by the union on Saturday mornings to learn about the educational system and college application process,” she said.

It was thanks to this newfound knowledge that Alejandra’s father was able to better support his daughter throughout her journey towards college, where she was granted a full scholarship to Kalamazoo College through the Posse Foundation plus additional scholarships from the union. She’s now pursuing a double major in chemistry and anthropology with the hopes of someday working in agricultural science or for a labor union. 

It’s only through the generous donations and support of the L.A. community that United Way of Greater Los Angeles is able to partner with organizations such as SEIU-USWW, whose mission is to improve the quality of life for their members. By providing training aimed to increase their skills, access to educational opportunities for career and community advancement, families like Alejandra’s are able to survive and thrive. Thank you for everything you do to make that happen.