Alexis Villarreal already has made plans for college, but she’s not quite sure how she’s going to pay for it. She has been unable to log hours at her two jobs, because they were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, so the Heights High School senior has been especially strapped financially.
Thankfully for Villarreal, who plans to attend Texas State University in San Marcos in the fall, she got some much-needed help Wednesday morning. She is one of 10 recipients of Houston ISD’s Superintendent Scholarship and received a surprise home visit from interim superintendent Grenita Lathan, who presented Villarreal with a giant check for $5,000.
Almost an hour later, Villarreal had yet to put it down.
“I can’t work right now, so it’s been so stressful,” she said. “But this kind of helps me keep going. It gives me a boost just to start off with. Once I start working, I think I can do it.”
Villarreal’s family has faith in her, and so does Heights principal Wendy Hampton. She nominated the young Oak Forest resident for the scholarship because Villarreal already has persevered through adversity that most high school students could not imagine.
Villarreal said she became mostly estranged from her father about three years ago. She said he has struggled with drug and alcohol abuse as well as mental health, having been in jail and in a psychiatric hospital.
Villarreal said her dad also has tried to commit suicide, and most of her interaction with him during the last few years has been instances when he reached out to his daughter for help. She said she has tried to be there for him, giving him money from time to time.
“It’s really hard, because your parent is supposed to be the one to take of you no matter what,” Villarreal said while fighting back tears. “It’s hard to feel like sometimes it’s the other way around. You’ve got to take care of them. It’s a lot of pressure.”
Despite all that, Hampton said Villarreal has made good grades and been a model student. Villarreal also participated on the dance team at Heights, all while juggling two part-time jobs and being a mentor to her younger brother, Andrew.
“I’m proud of her,” Hampton said. “She represents everything that’s good about Heights and what we do. I think she also represents a lot of other students and their stories that we don’t always know about that make it.”
Villarreal’s mother, Andrea Soliz, her stepfather, Alex Meza, and step-grandmother, Mary Meza, were there Wednesday when she received her scholarship. They’ve also seen Villarreal balance her responsibilities, and turn her trials into triumphs, on a daily basis.
Before the pandemic, her daily schedule typically consisted of early morning workouts, followed by school and work. Villarreal said she teaches dance lessons to kids at Houston Dance Works, 3500 T.C. Jester Blvd. Suite G, and also works in the kitchen at Family Bingo Center at 641 W. Crosstimbers Rd.
“She starts like at 4 in the morning and she comes home sometimes at 11 (at night),” her stepfather said. “She’s up exercising, going to school, exercising again, dancing. She was in a mechanics class, too.”
Villarreal is not yet sure what she wants to do for a career. She has considered majoring in business in college but also is interested in pediatrics, nursing and social services.
She also wants to continue trying to help her father get back on his feet and back in her life on a more regular basis. Villarreal said they were close until her dad’s problems materialized a few years ago.
She has no regrets, though, and said everything that’s happened up to this point led her to where she is now. Villarreal is a high school graduate who is headed to college, and on Wednesday she got a head start on paying for her tuition.
“It means a lot to me,” she said. “It’s one step closer – a big step closer.”