Student Overcomes Homelessness to gain admittance into UW-Eau Claire

Junior Valencia, a UW-Eau Claire student, created a positive outcome of homelessness

Oludare Obadiya

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May 12, 2022
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Amid great obstacles Valencia graduated highschool and was admitted into UW-Eau Claire

Junior Valencia is a first-year business student at UW-Eau Claire. He is also a young man who, according to his testimony, has battled homelessness and worked his way through high school to begin his higher education. 

Originally born in California, Valencia said he grew up in Waukesha, Wis. and graduated from Waukesha South 

Before the hardships he would face later in life, Valencia who goes by Junior, spoke about positive academic experiences up until his first year of high school. He said credits these to a strong support system. 

“I was always in the advanced classes in middle school because I had that backbone support from my parents,” he said. “They would always get on me about school work.” 

Not long after however, Valencia said his mother and stepfather would begin having problems within their relationship, something he said had a negative effect on his performance in school and overall mental well-being. 

“A lot of the issues that went on with (my parents) affected me mentally,” Valencia said. “I wasn’t really in the mood to get school work done, I was more concerned about what was happening with my family.”

With more attention at home than at school, Valencia said he was eventually kicked out of Waukesha West, the first high school he attended. 

With the help of a program called Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) which, according to their website, is intended to encourage secondary students who could be the first to go college in their family, Valencia said he was able to attend high school again at Waukesha South. 

It was around this time he said his living situation became complicated. Valencia, the second youngest of four, said he tried to explain to his parents that the issues between the two of them were negatively affecting him and his three sisters. 

This act, and other issues between Valencia, his mother and his step-father is what he said led to him being kicked out of his parents house at the age of fifteen, right before the start of his sophomore year of high school. 

Valencia said after bouncing from friend’s house to friend’s house, he was able to get semi-stable living conditions with a family member who moved up to Waukesha from California. There was a cauviaut, however, that made completing schoolwork challenging. 

“He made the condition that if I were to stay with him I had to carry my own weight, so I had to get a job to help pay for rent, electricity and food,” Valencia said. “I was working about 37 hours a week at my job and I was still playing sports. There was a lot on my plate.” 

Valencia said he worked at Culvers for over a year, among several other jobs he worked throughout high school. 

As all this was happening Valencia said he was a three sport athlete, playing junior varsity and varsity football and basketball as well as running track. 

“(My coaches) were pretty lenient with me with practice if I couldn’t make it because I had to work,” Valencia said.

Oftentimes, he said he would have to get his workouts in without his teammates, with just him and a coach to make it work with his busy schedule. 

When it came time to start thinking of college, Valencia said the AVID program pushed him to put himself out there and explore opportunities for his future. 

When asked how he found his way to UW-Eau Claire, Valencia spoke of the doubts he had  when applying to the school. 

“It was a school I wasn’t sure if I could get into because of the competitiveness…,” Valencia said. “I sent in my application and they ended up accepting me. I was really excited about that.” 

After being admitted, Valencia said a program at UW-Eau Claire called Student Support Services (SSS) reached out. 

According to their page on the university website, SSS is a government funded program with the intention of providing its participants with assistance to achieve their goals in both education and their careers. 

As the Director of Student Support Services, Bruce Ouderkirk gave some specific details about the requirements to be a member of the program.

“Eligibility is based on being a first generation college student and being from a family with some financial need,” Ouderkirk said. “We bring in about 90 new freshmen each year, and the other students are continuing from the previous years.”

Laura Rubenzer is a student affairs program specialist for SSS, she said she had the opportunity to work with Valencia last semester along with other students she teaches through the program. 

“I’m honored to support students like Junior who are motivated and have a real strong drive to succeed in life, no matter what obstacles come against them,” Rubenzer said.

Rubenzer also said some things about the effort it has taken for Valencia to get to UW-Eau Claire, despite the obstacles in his path. 

“He’s overcome a lot to be a student,” she said. “There’s a tenaciousness and a desire about Junior and he’s just a great human.”

Rubenzer also said Valencia was attentive in class and a good listener. 

Valencia had some words for people who could be going through situations similar to the ones he went through before making it to UW-Eau Claire

“Don’t be afraid to reach out,” Valencia said. “Ask anybody and everybody you can for help if you need it…It’s definitely worth it to talk to somebody.”

Valencia said he hopes to use a degree in business entrepreneurship to one day own his own plumbing business, a profession he said he grew a liking to after doing similar work with a cousin last summer. 

Obadiya can be reached at [email protected]