Sarahi Espinoza Salamanca's plans to attend college evaporated when, as a high school senior, her mother revealed that, unbeknownst to her, she was not living in the U.S. legally. Using her personal story for inspiration, she went on to launch DREAMer's Roadmap, a nonprofit mobile app that works to help undocumented students find scholarships to go to college.
Espinoza Salamanca was the daughter of undocumented immigrants and was able to obtain DREAMER status — an acronym for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors. She arrived in this country when she was 4 years old and like most other Dreamers, she was able to attend both elementary and high school, not realizing her status in this country.
"For me, growing up in this country from such a young age and going through the whole experience, K-12, I didn't really think that I was any different from all of my classmates," said Salamanca.
It wasn't until graduating high school that she was faced with the inevitable truth. Like many of her peers, she began applying to colleges with aspirations to make something of herself. Soon after, she received a notice in the mail saying her financial aid application was incomplete because it was missing her social security number.
Salamanca then called up her parents who explained that she was not in the country legally and was not able to obtain a social security number. In desperation, she went to her counselor, hoping for some helpful advice, but she recalls the counselor, telling her that "people like [you] don't go to college." For Salamanca, it "was a very hard pill to swallow."
Subsequently, she made a contact who shared that it is possible for DREAMers to go to college, and even obtain in-state tuition in some states, including California, where she lived. She has since used that knowledge to develop the DREAMer's Roadmap app, which helps undocumented students find college scholarships. The app was launched in 2016 and has so far provided information to more than 30,000 students, said Espinoza Salamanca.
"The whole idea behind DREAMers roadmap was to create a database where all of these scholarships would be housed and students all over the country could just download this app and have access to scholarships that they were eligible for to continue their education if that's what they wanted after high school," she said.
She says many parents arrive in the U.S. for better lives not just for themselves, but also for their children, and education can play a big role in that. "For us, it's wonderful that we have that opportunity to be able to be a little part in that success story for immigrants across this country," she said.
While managing the app, Salamanca is also involved in other entrepreneurial projects. She most recently launched the fund, #Supplies4FarmWorkers, which collects food, PPE, and school supplies for farmworkers affected by wildfires.
"It just hit me, 'What can we do to help them?' and being that DREAMer's Roadmap's mission is a lot about education, and immigrant families and most of these farmworkers are immigrants and undocumented, it just aligned perfectly," she said. "It was like a lightbulb moment."
Salamanca said the effort, that began about a month ago, has already handed out more than $50,000 worth of supplies to farmworkers' families.