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Community steps up to give young man a helping hand to improve his lot in life
Andrew Ramos - photo by Bulletin file photo
Andrew Ramos didn’t quite know what he was going to put down on paper when Calla Principal Lindsay Munoz called him and asked him to write a speech for the school’s graduation.

With a past that included living in a three-bedroom duplex with twelve other people, spending his nights in a South Stockton homeless shelter and fending for himself on the streets amongst thieves and drug dealers, and even working in the fields of Lodi picking blueberries for $10 a basket to help his family, Ramos had quite a lot to choose from.

But throughout his adversities and the continuous stream of curveballs that life managed to throw his way, the 18-year-old Delta College student (he graduated early and started classes in January) used what would normally crush other people as motivation to make himself even better.

“My entire life I had always been around people who were addicted to drugs and alcohol and the only thing that anyone considered good was graduating from high school and finding some minimum wage job,” Ramos said. “I knew that there was more out there for me – I wanted to go to college and have my own car and a house and be able to live a normal life.”

Breaking free of the bonds of poverty, however, wouldn’t be easy and would take the assistance of numerous people.

For the four months that Ramos and his family stayed at the homeless shelter in one of Stockton’s seediest neighborhoods, he’d venture out into the early morning darkness alone to catch a bus that would eventually take him to Calla.

Being light skinned, he said, made him a target, and he quickly had to develop friendly ties with those who were at one time giving him a hard time.

But those bus rides would also prove to be educational as he’d befriend two daily riders – a Social Security employee named Jackie and an ex-felon named Cliff – that took the time to talk to the young man who was working so hard to rise above his current situation.

“Sometimes it’s just the support of ordinary people – it’s the people you don’t expect that are there for you,” Ramos said. “Riding that bus every day I knew that I could rely on Jackie and Cliff to talk to and that made things easier for me.”

With the assistance of the Manteca Unified School District providing a bus pass, Ramos was able to continue his commute to school even when county budget cutbacks delayed busing (ones) routes and often forced him to show up an hour late for school – with Munoz helping him catch up on his first period work so that he didn’t fall behind.

After all of the hard work – the early mornings, the dangerous dark strolls, the cramped conditions – Ramos fulfilled his goal of graduating high school and wasted no time in jumping into his collegiate career by enrolling in Stockton’s Delta College.

And the community has taken notice.

Just days after the graduation ceremony, Ramos received a phone call from a Human Resources Manager from Food-4-Less offering him a job at their Manteca store – something that floored him because his only other work experience had been picking blueberries in the blistering sun.

On Thursday afternoon, Ramos met up with a couple that asked to remain anonymous that gave the young man a white 1992 Oldsmobile Cutlass that he can now use to drive back and forth to work – once he gets his license.

“It was all kind of surreal when these things started happening to me,” Ramos said. “I didn’t tell my story because I wanted people to feel sorry for me, but to show that you can overcome something if you set your mind to it, and the generosity of the people who realize that has been amazing.”

Ramos now lives in a comfortable Stockton neighborhood on a government subsidized housing program that allows him to only have to share a room with his brother.

“At first I would wake up several times a night and not know where I was – it didn’t seem right with all of those people,” he said. “Now I know what it feels like to have your own room, and it’s a great feeling – something I want to feel again when I finally own my first house.”