(NNPA)—Doctors told Jaime Gonzalez’s parents that his birth defects were so severe he probably wouldn’t live to age one. When he did, doctors told them next that he’d probably never walk. He did that too—though it is still difficult even after a series of surgeries. “[My parents] both pushed me,” Jaime said. “When I was little and didn’t want to try, my mother said, ‘Don’t say you can’t. You can.’ That became my attitude, and even when it was hard—I’m in pain even now—it’s never been an option for me to quit.”

Others also sold Jaime short. He was put in special education when he started kindergarten in South Central Los Angeles even though his mother had already taught him to read and write. But after his mother switched him to a new school, his first grade teacher saw his abilities and persuaded the principal to put him in the second grade. He eventually attended magnet programs throughout middle and high school, graduated seventh out of his class of 500, and received a full tuition scholarship to the University of Southern California in an eight year combined bachelor’s degree and medical school program.

Jaime—now Dr. Gonzalez—is part of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF)’s network of young servant leaders who are devoting their lives to serving the next generation of children. Winning a CDF Beat the Odds® scholarship in high school for demonstrating academic excellence despite great obstacles helped Jaime with living expenses in college, and getting involved with CDF’s efforts to enroll children in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) shaped his medical goals. He added a year to his education to get a master’s degree in public health along with his medical degree. He lost a year when his mother was shot while taking out the trash, and he saw her through two surgeries. After completing his residency Jaime is planning to return home to serve the Spanish-speaking underserved and uninsured population. “That’s where there is a need,” he explained, and unlike 90 percent of his medical school classmates, he speaks Spanish.

Growing up in Minnesota Katie DeSantis overcame a different set of terrible odds. At the age of three she witnessed her drunken father beat her mother. When her battered mom crawled into bed with her on another occasion, Katie consoled her by saying everything would be okay. But it wasn’t. Her mother escaped the abuse and moved Katie and her younger sister to Minneapolis, but then there were new problems.

The family was homeless seven times in Katie’s childhood. “My mom couldn’t hold down a steady job or a place for us to stay. We would live somewhere for six months to a year and get evicted and end up in a shelter.” There was often no privacy in the shelters and it was hard to do her homework in a loud and crowded area. Plus it was embarrassing, especially for a teenager in high school: “I would have the bus drop me off around the corner and I never invited anyone to where I lived.”

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