Betsy Bonilla Jimenez-Hurst is from Costa Rica but has spent nearly 20 years living in Tennessee. SheProfiles in Education Equity logo currently serves as the executive director of HOLA Lakeway, a grassroots, community-based organization that meets the needs and improves the overall quality of life for the immigrant population in East Tennessee’s Lakeway region, a six-county area. The mission of HOLA Lakeway is to facilitate the integration of immigrant families into the fabric of the Lakeway community through educational initiatives and advocacy.

What does education equity mean to you?

Education equity means to me no barriers. Each student receives what they need to develop to their full academic and social potential.

At HOLA Lakeway, our passion for education and advocacy inspires our work. Not only do we offer various educational programs, but we are also actively involved in a variety of grassroots projects. We take pride in our commitment to our entire community. The organization started in 2014 by serving Latino families. But in 2018, we noticed a large number of immigrants from Pakistan, India, and Micronesia moving into the area. So, the board decided to expand our efforts to serve all immigrants in the community.

What (or who) motivates you to advocate for education equity?

Mi gente (my people) are who motivate me to continue advocating for education equity. Immigrant families come to America seeking opportunities. Parents sacrifice a lot and work hard to see their children’s success. Many immigrant students struggle at school because of the language barrier, so we provide English language services. We know that education is one of the most important things that a child needs so they can have a bright future.

Education is one of the reasons that HOLA Lakeway has become my passion, because I want our community members to continue learning and reach their education goals. I want them to know that we are here to support them and help them reach their dream.

How does your own background inspire you to do this work?

My mom in Costa Rica did not have the opportunity to go to high school. She wanted us to have an education, but my parents were not able to pay for my postsecondary education. Education is expensive in Costa Rica. Even though it was “free,” we still had to pay a registration fee, buy the textbooks, supplies and uniforms. With four children in the house, it was too expensive. My mom worked hard to put my siblings and me in school. She sold flowers, bread, cleaned offices, and worked in a restaurant.

In Costa Rica, they had dual enrollment. So, I graduated high school and technical school at the same time. After graduation, I was able to find a job as an office assistant, which allowed me to continue my education and help my parents with the bills.

I came to Tennessee in 2002 and found out my education did not have value here, so I had to start from scratch. I took the GED certification test, and a few years later, I enrolled to Walters Community College. While there, I was able to work full-time. After a break, I decided to go back to school and complete my bachelor’s degree and later my master’s degree.

The reason I am sharing my story is to let young people know that dreams come true. It might not be easy, but with hard work and perseverance, it’s possible. Education is the best tool that we can all have. I hope my story will inspire people to keep working toward their dreams.

What’s your favorite quote? Why?

“I raise up my voice not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard. We cannot succeed when half of us are held back.” –Malala Yousafzai

This quote is important to me because it reminds me of how difficult my early days in the USA were and because of that, I strive to guide others through the obstacles of their early days.