The C5 Success Stories

Gabriela Townsend, Class of 2019

Gabby didn’t want want to be in C5.

“I have a brother who graduated from the program in 2015, but I didn’t want to be anything like him. I didn’t want to do the same things that my brother did. I thought my applying to C5 would be a waste of time.”

Due to a set of unfortunate circumstances, Gabby’s family had to sell their house and move in with her grandmother, aunt, and her aunt’s boyfriend – a situation that was less than ideal.

“I didn’t really know them well – we hadn’t really spent much time with them as they didn’t understand how my father, an African American, could marry and have children with my mother, a Hispanic woman. My parents did their best to diffuse the tension, or to brush off the hurtful comments my aunt’s boyfriend would make, but for over three years, I was surrounded by these three members of our family that treated us like second class citizens, as somehow less than them because my brother and I were bi-racial.

The verbal and emotion abuse I endured at the hands of my grandmother and aunt meant that I didn’t believe in myself, and even worse, that no adult really believed in me.”

Gabby’s brother was in his third year of the program at the time, and Gabby’s mom saw how C5 was making a difference for her brother in spite of the problems at home.

“Truthfully, I didn’t think I was good enough to be in C5 – I didn’t have any sentimental relationships with my class, and there were rarely any “I’m so proud of you!” moments. Yet, with very strong ‘encouragement’ from my mom, I took a leap of faith, and I applied.”

Although accepted, Gabby still wasn’t sure C5 was the place for her.

“I cried on my first day of camp. Sitting on the bus, I felt lost, even though I was surrounded by faces I recognized from school and from the early meetings. And then, I stepped into our first Leadership U class, and I belonged. I was in a place that treated me like I mattered, that I had value, and that I wasn’t defined by things out of my control. I never knew how much leadership and this program meant to my brother, until I experienced it myself.”

A few months after Gabby’s first summer with C5, the situation at her grandmother’s house escalated, and even thought it was a difficult financial decision, the Gabby’s family chose to leave.

“Being in C5 has helped me move on with my life because I have the self-confidence and self-esteem to rise above their hate. C5 has shown me that I don’t have to be perfect, that making mistakes helps me learn, and that I have the time to try new things, and truly prepare for a life after high school and after college. C5 is the place where I am accepted for who I am, and who I want to be, and I know that my life and my future would be completely different without them.”

Sam Luke, Class of 2015

Born in Kenya, Sam came to the United States with his family, who made the decision to leave their home to ensure that their children had the opportunities and education needed to become successful in life.

“As a young refugee of war, I was lost in the new country I was placed in, but C5 helped me find my identity and create a path to success.”

Sam hadn’t hear of C5 when he was nominated by his 7th grade math teacher, but his father knew it was an opportunity to good to pass up. Soon, so did Sam.

“Through the five adventure filled years, I acquired many leadership qualities and found out many things I didn’t know about myself. From living with 6 strangers at camp to hiking in the remote wilderness, visiting 12 college campuses across Texas to volunteering with other nonprofit organizations in my community, C5 showed me the many ways I could lead and make a difference for not only myself but also others.”

The fifth and final year of the program had the greatest impact on Sam’s future.

“Our last summer, we were asked to develop a plan to reduce Dallas Independent School District’s dropout rate. After completing the challenge we presented our ideas to the various administrators and even took the ideas to our own school districts.

That following school year I applied for a prestigious scholarship valued at about $260,000. In one of my three interviews as a finalist, I was asked how I gave back to my community and my first response was “Through the C5 Leadership Program”. I explained the program and its mission, emphasizing the community service that was required. I then spoke on my team’s summer project that we worked on in Dallas and I noticed the amount of interest they took in it. A few weeks later, I was at a ceremony receiving the award. I know that C5 played a huge role in achieving this great accolade.”

Sam is on track to complete his bachelor’s degree on time and is already researching graduate programs that will help him even more.

“C5 has taken me to limits that I have never imagined. I am attending Texas Christian University at zero cost to me and my family. What could have been a dream is now my reality and C5 deserves quite a bit of credit for helping me get to this point in life.

Maleny Calderon, Class of 2011

Maleny understood at a young age that an education would lead her to a better future, a future her parents wanted for her when they made the decision to move her entire family to the United States.

“Although I didn’t know what attending a university meant (or the challenges you have to overcome just to get accepted!), I was 100% sure that I wanted to attend college.  Unfortunately when my family and I moved to the U.S. (from Mexico), I believed that I would not be able to accomplish this goals.”

Her first challenge faced: the language barrier.

“School as an immigrant student was challenging because I could not understand a single word my teachers were saying. My teachers, however, saw my hard work and commitment to doing my best, even when I didn’t quite understand what was being said. They knew that I had the potential to be a leader and nominated me to be part of C5.”

Maleny’s interview was, in a word, interesting. The director that she met knew that she was still struggling with the language barrier, and offered to conduct the interview in Spanish, a great idea – in theory.

“He tried so hard! But I soon realized that his Spanish skills were less than than my English skills, so after the first 15 minutes or so, I asked to switch to English. I’m still not sure if we actually understood each other correctly.”

Language barrier or not, the leadership potential was evident to the director as well, and Maleny was invited to join the C5 family.

“I started C5 as a “shy” camper who at times let her fears get in the way of experiencing new activities. I became a confident girl with a bright future. Thanks to C5, I was accepted to six difference universities, and I was able to graduate in the top ten percent of my class. I proudly say that from an ESL student, C5 turned me into an A.P. English student.”

After graduating in 2015 from the University of Texas at Arlington with a degree in Mathematics, Maleny chose to pay it forward in her home community, and is currently a teacher at a public high school.

“The feeling of helping someone else, expecting nothing in return, is priceless. I know that by being a math teacher I’m not going to become the richest person in the world, but I know that it will bring joy to my life.”

In addition to giving back to her home community, Maleny has continued her commitment to C5 and has volunteered and served as a seasonal staff member every year since graduating from the program in 2011.

“I owe much my success to C5. The way C5 impacted my life is immeasurable. C5 changed my mentality – I discovered that I have the potential to overcome any challenge and by coming back each year, I can help the next classes of leaders discover their own leadership abilities. I know first hand how amazing this program is and how lucky I was and am to be a part of it.”