José stated that ‘I am originally from the small but
beautiful town of Juana Diaz, Puerto Rico. Although the external
beauty of my town was like a postcard, the lifestyle was ugly
and dangerous. I grew up surrounded by drugs, violence and
poverty. Every day was a struggle just to get something to eat.
At the age of 18, I felt a strong desire to build a better life
for myself and to go to college. I could not see that happening
for me in Puerto Rico. So on June 27 of 2010, I called my
brother, who was already living in Cleveland.
“Things are rough here,” I told him. “What’s your input in me
He said, “The doors of my house will always be open for you.”
That night, I sold my biggest possession — an old 1998 Toyota
Corolla — and with tears in my eyes bought a one-way plane
ticket to what is now my new home: Cleveland, Ohio.
About a year after living in Cleveland, I met the love of my
life, Lynnet Figueroa, and we were married a year later. Today
we have two young, beautiful children.
After a few years of marriage, my wife and I had a serious
discussion about each of our educational goals. We committed our
goals to paper and together we divided our house chores and
children’s responsibilities to make time for school and
My short-term goal was to become a firefighter/paramedic. I
selected Tri-C because of the kindness and support I received
from the beginning — when I enrolled in the EMT program — to now
as I finish the Paramedic program.
I say this because language was always one of my biggest
challenges in class. However, the effort that I put in to learn
never went unnoticed. When I got accepted to the Fire Academy,
they were very honest with me.
One of my instructors told me that I was a smart guy and that
regardless of my language barrier, he was going to help me in
every way he could so I could obtain my degree.
Those words coming from a complete stranger impacted my life.
Tri-C has not only been a college for me. Tri-C instructors and
staff have been motivators, counselors, developers,
cheerleaders, and more. There were moments in my life when I
thought I was not going to be successful in college and they
lifted me up and helped me get through it.
I am proud to share that although I was working full time and
filled with family duties, I was able to accomplished my
short-term goal of completing Tri-C’s EMT program as well as the
Fire Academy. I will finish the paramedic program in December.
I am also currently employed as an EMT with Donald Martens and
Sons Ambulance Service. My next goal is to take the City of
Cleveland exam for firefighter and hopefully become a full time
Every time I feel like I can’t do something, I look back and
remember where I came from and where I am now. And I remember
that with goals, hard work, the right attitude and support, I
can be successful not only in my education but also in life as a
role model for my children and provider for my family.’
Editor’s Note: Photo courtesy of Tri-C.