On long bus rides to school, Dylan Moreno would sometimes reflect on what was going on in his life, and then it’d sink in that his father was in prison.
At 12, his mother broke the news to him. At the time, the severity of what happened didn’t quite feel real. He thought it was temporary and never imagined that this would eventually lead to his father’s deportation and years of struggle for his family.
"I pushed it to the back of my mind and started playing video games," Moreno, now 19, said. After several months, he started to realize his father was never returning.
The Moreno family is part of the Statesman’s Season for Caring program, which helps hundreds of families each year through local nonprofit agencies. The Moreno family was nominated by Foundation Communities.
Moreno watched as his older brother, Kevin, stepped in as the head of the household.. At 16, his brother juggled high school with after school and weekend jobs to help keep the family afloat. Their mother’s housekeeper wages weren’t enough to support the family. Plus, she’d just learned that she was pregnant.
As a sixth-grader, Dylan Moreno felt helpless.
"I wanted to help so much," he said. "But what do I do at 12 years old?"
When his baby sister Avia was born, he dove into his big brother role helping his mom care for her as much as possible. He remembers the family moving out of their North Austin apartment after they could no longer pay the rent. He remembers living for years in a cramped one-room studio space with no central air conditioning. He remembers seeing his mother struggle while pregnant.
Everything hit him in high school. "All of a sudden I started to think, ‘This is all my father’s fault,’" he said.
His older brother had managed to seek help from the nonprofit Foundation Communities and secured a two-bedroom apartment for the family after they spent years living in the studio space. The move meant Moreno starting over at a different school. He spent his freshman year at Lanier High School before enrolling at McCallum.
But things didn’t go well there. Moreno began feeling that maybe he since he was older now that he should help out his family with the rent and get a job. He knew his family was still struggling and couldn’t help but blame his father. "It all got to me, and I didn’t want to go to school anymore," he said.
But dropping out wasn’t an option, according to his mother Teresa Gamez Pérez. After her husband was incarcerated, she had decided against moving back to Mexico, where she was from, in order for her children to continue their studies in the U.S.
For a fresh start, Moreno transferred to Travis High School. "I think the move there did me good," he said.
When he graduated among the top six percent of his class, his grandmother and mother were overcome with emotion. There were times when they thought he wouldn’t graduate, and Moreno was one absence away from not walking across the graduation stage.
His older brother had sacrificed his college dreams in order to lift the family up financially, so when Moreno was accepted to the University of Texas at Austin with a scholarship covering most of his tuition, the family was elated.
"There were times when we were almost homeless that I just thought that it wasn’t fair," he said. "There were kids with new shoes, the latest gaming consoles or new shirts every month. And I’d wear the same clothes every year."
Moreno said he was afraid people were going to figure out he was poor and not be friends with him.
"Now, I’m grateful for what I have," he said. "I’m moving forward."
To help Dylan Moreno continue his college dream, he needs help with textbooks and school expenses. The family also needs an SUV to fit a family of five as well as car repairs for their existing car, rent assistance, grocery store gift cards, shelving, a desk, a dining room table that seats six, new living room furniture, and a TV stands. They would also like a family gym membership, ballet classes for Avia and a trip to a hair salon or spa for Diamantina and Teresa.
To find out more about the Moreno family or to fulfill one of the wish list items, contact, Foundation Communities, 512-447-2026, foundcom.org.