Rancho Cielo grads build firm foundation

From the Monterey Herald: Rancho Cielo students on Thursday received what once seemed impossible: their high school or GED diplomas. "We were the mess-ups, the low men on the totem pole, the dropouts," Martin Montoya told family, friends, staff and students at the graduation ceremony for Rancho Cielo's YouthBuild construction program.

A ceremony for Rancho Cielo's culinary academy graduates was held earlier Thursday.

"Leaving high school is a huge transition in our lives and none of us know what the world has in store for us," Montoya said. "I do know, however, that we have now been given the tools to deal with those life events."

Rancho Cielo is a school and social services center in Salinas that provides educational opportunities and job training for at-risk youth in Monterey County.

On Thursday, graduates appeared nervous as they entered the stage in Rancho Cielo's amphitheater, family and friends cheering them on.

Executive Director Susie Brusa congratulated the students and announced that this year's graduating class was the biggest Rancho Cielo has had since it opened its doors in 2000. There were 35 high school and GED diploma recipients in the YouthBuild program, and 24 recipients in the Drummond Culinary Academy.

"We know that you've gotten to this point and you are going to achieve wonderful things and make all of us proud," said Brusa.

In addition to a diploma, some graduates leave Rancho Cielo with nationally recognized certifications in construction and culinary arts.

Graduation marked a big turnaround for Montoya, 17, who had a difficult upbringing — his father was in prison for most of his life, while his mother had problems with drugs — and struggled in traditional high schools.

Rancho Cielo gave him the support he couldn't find at his previous schools, his mother said.

"He always had someone to guide him, they never turned their back on him," Janet Torres said of Rancho Cielo. "This place really turned his life around because he was beginning to lose himself."

News Item Publication Date: 
Thursday, June 20, 2013