Don Lugo Students Rise From the Ashes

Don Lugo students share their stories of having to live through the foster system.

Don Lugo students share their stories of having to live through the foster system. “My struggles have made me a stronger person and motivate me to pursue the career of my dreams, which is acting,” shared Donte Reynolds. Photo captured by Tania Nieblas.

Tania Nieblas and Jena Huante

Somewhere in the outskirts of the Don Lugo community lives a group of students who weren’t exactly dealt the best cards in life. Growing up in the foster system is different and somewhat difficult for every child. Some become involved in the “system” as toddlers while others, depending on the experience they’ve encountered, enter foster care as teenagers. Current students, Daniella Sanchez and Donte Reynolds, share their journeys that began at an early age.

Daniella grew up in the Central American country of El Salvador where she lived in poverty with her father. “My mom left the country and didn’t even think of contacting me until I was ten years old. Then, one day she decided to randomly appear on my doorstep to bring me home to the United States with her,” she explained. What Daniella thought was a new opportunity to gain a family that she so badly yearned for, turned out to be the complete opposite.

Daniella’s new life and home in the US became more of what felt like a prison. “The only place where I felt comfortable was at school because it was the only place where I was able to get away from my abusive mom and her boyfriend,” she muttered. It wasn’t until she was fifteen when Daniella reached her breaking point and decided to open up to her choir teacher about her life at home. Concerned for Daniella and mandated by law, he contacted Child Protective Services (CPS) which allowed for Daniella to be placed in the loving foster home she finds herself today.  

On the other side of San Bernardino County, in the deep part of Los Angeles, Class of 2017’s Donte Reynolds was experiencing a similar experience. At the age of one, Donte was removed from his home with his biological parents and placed with his aunt; while acting as his adoptive mother, she had created an abusive environment. Donte withstood vicious mental and physical pain for 13 years. “She lowered my self-esteem everyday by telling me I’d never be anything once I left her.”

The innocence of childhood now removed from their lives and thoughts of “will I be alright” whirled around in their minds. However, despite his troubled childhood, Donte spreads positivity everywhere he goes and lives by Bible verse, Philippians 4:13, “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.”

Daniella has since happily lived with two foster parents for a year and a half and has thoroughly enjoyed her time with her new family. “I consider them my birth parents and I can’t imagine where I would be without them.” She is thrilled to finally know what it is like to be apart of a real family.

Donte, currently lives in a group home for boys and sticks to a strict schedule day by day. The boys in the home have scheduled times for every meal and snacks and have no “parent”, only adults who tell them what to do and when to do it. The house follows a chart that contains every boys name where individual behavior determines their curfew and allowance, and failure to follow the rules in the group home can result in the loss of personal time and an earlier curfew. “Although there are downsides to group homes, I get along with my roommates and enjoy my personal time,” he mentions.

For both students, education is very important and they both plan on continuing  academic excellence after high school. “I plan on attending college to become a teacher because my goal is to help and be an inspiration for my future students to study and get far in life despite the difficulties in their lives,” explained Sanchez. On the other hand, once Donte is 18, he’ll be given a specific sum of money to start his life on his own. His dream is to one day be a professional actor.

The community of Chino has a small group of students, like Daniella and Donte, who have risen from the ashes and are striving to make something out of their lives. Their first step? Graduate from Don Lugo High School and emerge victoriously.