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She Struggled To Pay For College Because She Was Undocumented, So This Latina Created An App To Make The Process Easier For The Next Generation

A college degree is increasingly essential to a successful future but the cost is more expensive than ever. It’s even more costly for students who don’t qualify for FAFSA due to their undocumented status.

That’s the problem Sarahi Espinoza Salamanca faced when she first pursued financial assistance.

Realizing she was denied financial aid because she was undocumented the young Latina looked for help. “I asked my counselor for guidance on other options to finance my college education and she said that people like me didn’t go to college,” Espinoza Salamanca explained to Forbes.

In order to get FAFSA assistance, applicants need a Social Security number. Unfortunately, this disqualifies the 3.6 Million DREAMers under the Obama Administration’s DACA policy.

“It took me a while to realize that I was probably not the only one in this situation and that is when the initial idea of ‘one day somehow I’m going to have to fix this problem,’” Espinoza Salamanca explained. Motivated, the Latina sought to turn her fledgling idea into a tool to benefit students like herself.

In 2014, Espinoza Salamanca submitted her idea — the DREAMers Roadmap app — to the Voto Latino’s Innovator Challenge. The app links undocumented students to scholarships that don’t require proof of citizenship.

The idea was such a success. Espinoza Salamanca won the Innovator Challenge in 2015 and secured $100,000 to re-invest in the app.

The DREAMers Roadmap app has helped over 20,000 students since it’s creation.

While building the app, Espinoza Salamanca found a common concern among students. The fear of government agencies learning about their status kept many from asking for help. So, in addition to offering financial aid, the app offers users a guarantee of privacy.

“One of the ways we protect our users is by only asking them for an email to create an account and not asking them for any personal information,” Espinoza Salamanca reassured of the app’s discretion. “We also created a feature called ‘Explore’ which allows any user to see all of our scholarships without having to create an account.”

With new financial options for these students, comes new possibilities. Espinoza Salamanca hopes to help facilitate even more college enrollment for members of the Latinidad.

“We as a country, we are losing so much talent and potential by making it so hard to educate these students.” Espinoza Salamanca continued, “We make it nearly impossible for these kids to have an opportunity to be an essential part of this country. This is our home too.”

If you’re interested in downloading the DREAMers Roadmap, you can do so for free! It’s now available for both Google Play and the iPhone app store.


READ: If Catalina Cruz Wins In November, She’ll Be New York State’s First Dreamer To Be Elected To Office

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Meet Michelle Poler, The Venezolana Inspiring Women To Face Their Fears

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Meet Michelle Poler, The Venezolana Inspiring Women To Face Their Fears

According to Michelle Poler’s checklist, her life was close to perfect. After graduating high school in Caracas, Venezuela, she moved to Savannah, Georgia to study advertising. While there, she said “I do” to her then-boyfriend. Once she received her bachelor’s degree, she relocated with her husband to Miami, where she swiftly landed an ideal industry gig. But as she fulfilled each life goal, many of them feats for immigrant women of color in the US, she didn’t feel as gratified as she’d been told she would her whole life.

In fact, Poler, who had always lived life according to the safe and secure to-do list society created for her, didn’t start feeling happy until she ditched the rule book entirely and started uncomfortably facing her biggest trepidations through Hello Fears.

A social movement, Hello Fears empowers people to step outside of their comfort zone, engaging in activities that make them a little uneasy, so that they’re able to tap into their full potential. The project, started in 2015 when Poler was a graduate student at New York’s School of Visual Arts, uses storytelling and media content to help people embrace fear and realize the joyous life they fantasize about.

“The core of this project is to inspire people to tackle daily fears,” Poler, 30, told FIERCE. “We discovered that courage is contagious, so by me sharing my story and other people’s stories, others reading are more willing to face their own fears.”

But before the Brooklyn-based entrepreneur started encouraging her more than 30 thousand followers to be courageous, she had to confront her own terrors. While earning her master’s degree in branding, she had a class assignment that required her to do something, anything, for 100 days. The self-described scaredy cat used the opportunity to help her confront the anxieties that were limiting her from success and pleasure. From there, “100 Days Without Fear” was born.

For the next 100 days, Poler tackled a new fear each day. Starting small, the New York transplant, who at the time was scared to ride the subway alone or be out late at night, found herself conquering those apprehensions. She also ate foods that freaked her out. She experienced the torture of a Brazilian wax. She faced rejection passing out flyers on city street corners. And she dined at a bar alone.

“I started getting confidence as I was facing my fears,” she said. “Achieving those small things and gaining that confidence helped me move to more complicated fears.”

Soon, Poler was tackling horrors that few brave individuals would even dare to think about, from holding a tarantula, to skydiving, to posing nude in front of an arts class. Once she completed the physical tasks she thought she was never capable of doing, she moved on to a bigger feat: facing the fears that were getting in the way of her leading her most fulfilled life. That meant quitting her secure but unsatisfying job in advertising and confronting problems in her familial relationships.

“One of my biggest fears was losing my parents, but I wasn’t going to kill them for this purpose,” Poler jokes. “So I decided to write a letter, a very honest letter as if they were dead, telling them all the things I love and appreciate about them and also things I would like to change in our relationship so we can enjoy life together on this planet.”

The experience was emotional, both for her and the now thousands of followers she had as her project went viral. But the tough and tearful conversation, which Poler shared in a video, were worth it. When it was time for her to face her 100th fear, speaking publicly about her experience at a TEDx Talk, her Panama-based parents were in the crowd, being more present and expressive, just as she had asked of them in her letter.

With her class assignment complete, and now jobless because of it, Poler was inspired to turn her personal journey into a business and movement, one that could inspire others to lead their best lives just as she was starting to. Through Hello Fears, the Latina now helps thousands of people take the first step of welcoming the things that make them uneasy and provides them with the tools to conquer those trepidations. She does this primarily through storytelling, from original, empowering Instagram content, a digital course, a blog where people share their own fear-defeating stories and through keynote speaking engagements. Poler averages about 70 conferences a year, bringing her powerful message of triumph to teenage girls as well as big corporations like Google, Facebook, Netflix and Microsoft.

“Fear is so universal. Everyone can relate. I speak to people of all ages, backgrounds and genders, and all relate to fear and courage,” she said, noting that most of her talks are for girls and women.

In speaking with tens of thousands of people around the country, she has found the thing most people are afraid of is failing the people they love. Unhappy wives don’t leave toxic marriages because they’re worried about how divorce might impact their children. Talented artists don’t pursue their passions because they’re scared of disappointing their parents. Partners with academic dreams don’t apply for graduate school because they fear losing income could put their relationship in turmoil.

“The fear of failing others, that’s the thing people take into account the most before taking a risk. But when we think like that and stop taking risks because of our fears of failing others, we start failing ourselves,” she said.

According to Poler, there are two types of fears that keep people from realizing their dreams: personal and culture. The former, which also includes not wanting to fail loved ones, is avoiding hurting your ego. Rejection is painful, and trying and failing is a bitter death to the soul, so we protect ourselves from that hurt by refusing to face the fear. Similarly, cultural fears, the worry of what society might think of you for behaving outside of the status quo, also keeps people in unhappy situations.

But Poler says when we remain in our comfort zone, we risk never evolving into the people we have the potential of being. For her, we grow when we challenge ourselves and we accomplish our goals the quickest when we look fear straight in the eye. She would know. Before embarking on her “100 Days Without Fear” class project, she was tasked to write a ten-year plan for her life. A year later, by braving her fears, she made all the ambitions she thought were slightly unfeasible to complete even in a decade happen in 365 days, from being paid to speak publicly, to starting her own company to building a brand with her husband. Now, just four years later, she started a relationships podcast with her husband, is writing her first book and had her story picked up for a series on Fox.

“If you have any goal in mind, if you face your fears, the probability is you will get to your goal faster and you actually get there at all,” she said.

For those hoping to conquer their fears but are unsure where to start, Poler suggests making a list of the rewards that facing their fear could bring them, from tiny outcomes to possibilities that might at first seem unrealistic. “Ask yourself, what’s the best that can happen? Fill your mind with rewards and positive thoughts that take you back to the reason you wanted to do this in the first place,” she said. She also proposes keeping an accountability partner, someone who will remind you of what you stand to gain by overcoming your terrors and will inspire you when you feel like giving up.

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Yesterday I had the honor to speak to a group of 500 certified Emergency Nurses. And I thought: fearless! The things they see everyday ???? I could not be able to handle it. They have to deal with loss, tragedy, blood and pain (emotional and physical) day after day ???? . What can I teach them? I thought ???? . For some people it takes courage and intention to be at least 10% “selfish” and take care of themselves, for once. These people spend their lives caring for others, so much, that they forget to find the time for themselves. So THAT was my mission yesterday: to challenge them to do something for themselves and not feel guilty about it. . Same goes for entrepreneurs and their work. So many hours working to make it, saving all of our money and investing it back into the business. But, what about us? . When was the last time you got yourself a massage at a spa? Or took a night off to do something by yourself that you LOVE to do? Or splurged at a restaurant that you’ve always wanted to go? Or bought tickets to see a show or a concert? . It is OK to do these things once in a while. Spoil yourself, you deserve it. You worked for it. #noguilt . When we take care of ourselves we feel happy, we bring our best selves to the world and then we will be able to help others, because happiness is contagious ♥️???????? #selfcarefirst #courageis #hellofears #mentalhealth #behappy

A post shared by Hello Fears (@hellofears) on

For Poler, facing her fears not only allowed her to live the joyous life that degrees, a career and marriage couldn’t do alone but it also showed her, for the first time, how mighty she is.

“One thing I learned is that I’m way stronger than I thought. I perceived myself as a fragile person who was going to break at any point and needed someone to rescue me. I’m way stronger than that. Maybe not physically — I should probably go to the gym for that — but mentally I’m way stronger than I thought. I can handle myself. I can survive on my own, if I wanted to,” she said.

Read: Venezolana Verónica Sanchis Bencomo Started Foto Féminas To Promote Women Photographers In Latin America And The Caribbean

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The #1 Tip I Learned To Not Go Broke Over The Holidays

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The #1 Tip I Learned To Not Go Broke Over The Holidays

The holidays are a wonderful time of year, from the music to the outfits to the food. The one thing that isn’t wonderful, though, is our collective money spending. It’s pretty predictable, year after year: We completely forget to save for Christmas and then, a month before December, we freak out because we aren’t really sure how we will afford all the extravagance of the holidays. From the gifts for family and friends to the hostess gifts for all those parties you plan to attend to Christmas cards for your distant relatives and ex-coworkers, it can all add up. Thankfully, there IS a way to budget for the holidays without going broke (or going crazy!).

Thanks to these 20 tips (especially #1 and DEFINITELY #20), you can go into the holidays resting assured that you won’t go broke for once. Although some of these tips might serve you better if you haven’t done all of your shopping yet this year there’s a lot we can all learn about budgeting for the holidays… and not going broke while still enjoying the Christmas season.

1. Download a personal finance app.

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If you are planning to not spend a fortune this holiday season but still don’t have a dependable personal finance app that you rely on to track your spending, then get on it! I’m personally a huge fan of You Need A Budget (YNAB), which has four simple rules and a software system that allows you to track your spending and save for those big goals you have down the road.

2. Look at what you spent last Christmas.

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A great way to figure out what you might be spending on Christmas presents and holiday stuff this year is to go through and see what you had spent last year. It might be scary but make sure you go through your credit card bills and banks statements from November and December. Also, don’t forget to calculate if you bought some presents earlier in the year! It all needs to be added up to give you a good sense of the coming year.

3. Include buying things like wrapping paper and shipping presents.

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Did you forget to add in all the extras that come with the holiday season and gifting, such as wrapping paper, labels, shipping, etc? Don’t worry, it happens to all of us. I almost never think about the fact that I need to buy new wrapping paper basically every year and yet somehow it always adds to my overall costs. The same goes for shipping presents to any family members and friends that you will not be seeing this year.

4. Consider if you want to send out holiday cards.

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Holiday cards are super adorable and great to receive, but they have to go into your overall holiday budget too. A pack of cards can cost you and don’t forget about the stamps, either. I ended up spending something like $20 on stamps this year and another $20 on cards… So although it seems like small costs, it all adds up. Put it in your budget if this is something you want to commit to!

5. Count everyone you got presents for.

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Part of budgeting for Christmas includes everyone that you bought presents for. After you’ve added up all of the costs you actually incurred, you’ll want to also write down everyone that received presents from you this year. From your immediate family to your distant cousins and your college besties, everyone has to go on the list even if they got something small… Like a Christmas card. This is part of the evaluation process, so trust me on this.

6. Evaluate if your list is the same this year or if you can cut some people (or add others).

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Every year, you probably keep buying presents for all of the same people that you have always bought presents for. But since this year you are doing a deep inventory, this is the perfect time to evaluate where that list you made in #5 actually still makes sense. Is there anyone that you’re actually not that close to that you can cut? Or are there people you need to add? Think hard about this and make sure that you remove anyone off your list that you’re just not that close to anymore because, let’s face it, you can’t afford to keep adding people all the time. And guilt over not sending a present this year isn’t really a good reason to send a present.

7. Be realistic about the people you really WANT to gift.

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This is where you have to be really, really harsh. Think about the people who truly bring you joy and the people that you love, see all the time, who are there for you and who you would be there for any time of day. Are there any people that don’t fit this description that are still on your Christmas shopping list? Think about why they are there. Is it more a sense of obligation or guilt, rather than the true spirit of gift-giving? Those are the people that you should be removing, guilt-free. Honestly, they will probably feel the same about you and be more than happy to no longer have to send you something just because they feel obligated to.

8. Think about whether you want to give personalized, DIY gifts.

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There might be some people on your list who you don’t really love giving gifts to but you don’t yet want to remove them off of your list completely, amirite? These people might be the perfect candidates to receive homemade, DIY gifts from you. Although DIY gifts can sometimes not be that much cheaper than something else, other times they can be a great way to cut costs and also give people you appreciate something a bit more personalized. For instance, one year I made a huge batch of salsa verde and gave that to all of my friends. Another year, I did a homemade spice mix and did the same. And let me tell you, those gifts were SERIOUSLY appreciated.

9. Go through your closet for items you can sell.

chaosorganizing/Instagram

This isn’t technically a way to cut costs during the busy holiday season but it IS a good way to “find” extra money that you can then funnel into your holiday budget. Everyone has at least a few items in their closet that they no longer wear or don’t see themselves wearing. Well, no time like the present to clear out your closet and give it all away!

10. The same goes for your electronics, unused/unopened makeup, etc.

bantroo_decorations/Instagram

Just as there are things in your closet that you could sell, I bet there are other things around the house that you could get rid of too. Sure, some items are best donated (which is a great thing to do during the holidays, too) but other items can definitely be sold. For instance, my husband has an old phone that is still in great working order but he hasn’t sold yet… Now is the time. The same goes for my 2-year-old Kindle that I haven’t touched in 1.5 years.

11. Look at your budget and add in money for travel.

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Remember when I told you to look at how much money you spent on Christmas presents last year? Well, you also want to look at how much money you spent on travel. This is easily done if you usually fly somewhere else for the holidays but should also be done if you do a lot of driving between different relatives’ homes around the holidays. Filling up the car’s gas tank can add up, too, so this needs to be thought about and factored in.

12. Don’t forget to also add in what you might spend on going to parties.

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Sure, going to family parties for the holidays is a given when it comes to traveling but I bet that you will be going to other parties, too. From your work party to your coworker’s shindig to your bestie’s annual Christmas Eve party, there is always more that you are doing this year. Factor in the travel costs between all of those parties as well as how much you are spending on hostess gifts. Remember: Those bottles of wine and plates of cookies you bring to every party don’t pay for themselves!

13. Come up with a realistic budget.

debtkickinmom/Instagram

Here’s where sh*t gets real: You need to take a look at ALL of your holiday expenses from last year and figure out what you can and should spend this year. Are there places you can cut, like with DIY gifts and by bringing cookies to parties instead of your usual pricey bottle of wine? Look at how much you owe, too, and figure out what makes sense for your family. There is never a good reason to go into debt and that especially includes the holidays. You shouldn’t spend money you don’t have, so keep that in mind as you cross people off of your Christmas gift list. They would NEVER ask you to go into debt for them, trust me.

14. Recognize that it’s okay to spend less and save more.

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Here’s the thing that is going to take some real work and might actually be one of the hardest things about budgeting for the holidays: You need to be OKAY with spending less money. Often, we do things simply because that is the way we have always done them. We keep giving that gift to our college roommate just because we have been doing it for years even though realistically you never talk to this person outside of the yearly holiday exchange. Do you really need to be doing that? I bet you can come up with several more examples of this, too. But it takes time to adjust to your financial reality and treat your finances with care and thought, so get started on this now. It might take you a few years to really get to where you want to be but it’s well worth the effort.

15. Don’t feel that you need to please absolutely everyone.

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Here’s the biggie about spending LESS for the holidays: You don’t need to get everyone an expensive gift and it doesn’t need to cost the same gift as whatever they get you. Sure, that might seem more “fair” but if you are measuring your relationship to a person by how much they are giving you and you are giving them, then this isn’t a healthy relationship. Instead, work on learning to let go of pleasing everyone and focus on pleasing yourself (and your wallet). If there are people that you have to not give a present to this year or that you won’t be spending as much money on, that’s okay. But you need to learn that it’s okay and that’s a process.

16. Be cool with re-gifting.

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Here’s a dirty little secret that nobody ever wants to admit: Everyone re-gifts. I’ve never met a person who hasn’t done this or who hasn’t at least considered it and then opted out because they were “ashamed.” But what exactly are you ashamed of? Like, how many times did a friend come to your house and say, “hey, I want to see that thing I gave you for Christmas three years ago.” NEVER. Sometimes, the gifts we get seem great in theory but we never end up using them. And sometimes, abuelita gets us something that is just… so wrong. Well, those unused gifts might be perfect for someone else, so don’t be afraid to save them and re-gift them later. It doesn’t make you a cheapskate. It makes you thoughtful because you knew that someone else in your life would actually LOVE this thing that would otherwise be collecting dust at your house. Do it!

17. Plan ahead by the person.

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One of the best ways I have found to “save money” every holiday season is that I plan ahead the people that I want to give gifts to and I keep them in mind when traveling or going to interesting stores. You might not be able to do this one in 2018, but you can certainly keep it in mind for the future. Here’s how it works: Once you have your Christmas gift list ready, every time that you travel or go somewhere interesting, remember the people on your list and keep an eye out for them. I’ve gotten at least 1/4 of my presents this way for years now. Not only does it cut costs in December but it also makes me a little bit less stressed because I know that at least a portion of my gifts are already taken care of.

18. It’s okay to shop sales.

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Just as there is no shame in re-gifting, there is also no shame in buying your loved ones things that you find on sale. As long as the gift you are getting is heartfelt and chosen with care, there is no reason why you can’t also save a little bit of money. This is another reason why planning ahead (#17) is a great idea since you can take advantage of things like Prime Day when doing your holiday shopping early. And yes, that’s a true story. I bought one of my best friends a gift this year during Amazon’s Prime Day in JULY!

19. Add in a little extra for self-care money.

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I know it might be a stretch to stretch your holiday budget even further by spending money on yourself but trust me when I say that this is a definite necessity. I know that this time of year is super busy and stressful, which is precisely why you need to dedicate a small portion of your budget on some extra self-care. For instance, go get some pretty perfect-for-the-holiday nails. Or buy yourself a facemask for some self-care at home. Or go get a blow-out for a particularly great party. Whatever it is, don’t forget YOU during this time of year.

20. Create your holiday budget for next year, RIGHT NOW.

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And here’s the biggie and my best piece of advice for you: Create your holiday budget, right now, for NEXT year. After you have done all of this work to get your holiday budget under control for this year, don’t forget that next year is just around the corner. The best thing that I learned through my personal finance app, YNAB, is that part of budgeting is calculating your yearly expenses well before they happen. Here’s how to do it: If you are planning to spend $1200 on Christmas travel, gifts, cards, etc., every year, then you need to start saving that money in January, NOT start freaking out about it after Halloween. So once you know and have set your budget (whatever that number is), divide it by 12 (months of the year) and that way you know exactly how much to put towards holiday stuff every month next year. This is a genius way to make sure you will have money to do all of the things you want to do next Christmas AND it will make your holiday season super stress-free. All it takes is saving $100 a month (or so?) and you will be able to rock Christmas 2019 like no other.

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