“Que onda!,” Juan greets his friends.
Juan doesn’t greet his friends with a handshake, but a tight embrace. He is funny, a bit of a jokester, but most of all, he is a joy to be around. He loves his friends fiercely. This is far from the boy who arrived at Rancho de los Niños ten years ago.
Juan arrived at Rancho in a wheelchair, malnourished and tiny for a 13 year old. He had been told he’d remain in that wheelchair for the rest of his life. In his first few days and weeks at the home, he was suspicious and reserved. As he built relationships with staff and other children at the home, he slowly let down his guard.
The first Christmas at Rancho, caregivers asked him if there was anything he wanted for Christmas. His response was quick and certain,”I’d like to walk.”
As an infant, Juan had been diagnosed with spina bifida, a birth defect in which a baby’s spinal cord fails to develop properly. He was told he would never walk. But years later, Juan was determined to try. Rancho staff took Juan to the doctor to see what could be done.
Doctors told Juan he did not have spina bifida. In fact, tests showed no reason he couldn’t walk. Juan couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He was angry, but relieved and motivated to give all he had to learn to walk.
Juan began therapy and worked to stand on his tiny legs. Years of remaining in a seated position meant his muscles had a lot of catching up to do. In a few months, he had transferred from his wheelchair to a walker. Then to forearm crutches, and finally, after a year of treatment, 14-year-old Juan could not only walk, he could run. Today, he’s tough to keep up with on the soccer field. Through learning to walk, Juan proved to himself that with hard work, determination and a lot of prayer, he could overcome whatever he set his mind to.
Recently, Juan began to consider his career options. After exploring numerous occupations, Juan settled on something he’d always been passionate about–culinary arts. Last year, he enrolled in a five-month cooking class. Like learning to walk, Juan gave all he had to his culinary curriculum and excelled.
Juan had additional hurdles to face after completing his cooking class. He would apply for jobs, but was turned down when business owners learned he couldn’t read or write. Instead of giving up, he decided to face that hurdle head on–learning to read and write so he can ultimately land a position as a chef. He recently moved into his first apartment with some friends from Rancho. Meanwhile, he’s working at a hotel until he finishes learning to read and write and can explore opportunities as a chef. Juan knows–through hard work and tenacity–that he can achieve whatever he sets out to do.