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GRCC empowers Yeli Romero to achieve her business and personal goals

August 17, 2023, GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Grand Rapids Community College student Yeli Romero has seen her share of obstacles in life.

After immigrating to the U.S., she graduated from Adelante High School and wasn’t sure what was next.

“As a first-generation college student no one educated me on the fact that college was the next step after high school,” Romero said. “It was my perception that college was only for people who were born here in the United States and not for people from other countries like me.”

Instead, after graduation, she began to take English as a second language courses.

“Coming out of high school my English was not the best, and it is still not at the level I would like,” she said.

After a year, she began to feel more confident with her growing English skills, and someone told her that GRCC might be a place to continue to her educational journey.

“I was not familiar with GRCC, and I was scared to even check out the campus,” she said with a smile. “Again, my perception was that help was available only for people who were born in the United States.”

But she pushed through her fears, visited the downtown campus and took a couple of ESL classes.

“Back then I used to work 25 hours per week and was not making much money, so I finished two classes and that was it,” she said. 

A few years later, she was working in event promotion and at one such gathering, one of the exhibitors was GRCC.

“I went over and asked what type of resources were available for people like me,” she said. “They were very informative, and I came back to the campus. I did another test, my score was higher and I was able to start taking regular classes that would go toward my goals.” 

She now is on track to graduate in 2026.

“I wish I could be taking more classes, so I could graduate sooner but being a mom and owner of two businesses, it’s hard for me to manage my busy schedule,” she said.

She added with a laugh: “My graduation seems pretty far away with the way I am taking my classes right now.”

On the other hand, she said, she’s not one to back down from a challenge.

In high school already, she started losing her hair. She was diagnosed with alopecia universalis, and she said it was devastating to realize what lay ahead of her even as she dealt with the stress of being an immigrant new to the U.S. finishing high school away from family and friends.

Alopecia universalis leads to complete hair loss, and there is no cure. 

“I struggled for many years with myself and my beliefs,” she said. 

But two years ago, she began to speak more openly about her diagnosis, and that, she said, has been freeing.

“My goal now is to continue motivating and empowering other women with the same condition as me,” she said. “I want them to see life in a positive way. Also, to know we deserve to be loved no matter our hair loss condition. Our hair doesn’t define who we are. It's our heart and soul that makes us unique.”

Her two businesses, co-owned with her husband, also reflect her positive spirit and growing confidence.

One is called Yeli’s Fitness and sees her teaching Zumba at the YMCA, for the city of Grand Rapids and at various private businesses in Grand Rapids.

The other is ACCESO VIP which she said works with local businesses reaching out to the Latino community via digital marketing, social media management, graphic design event promotion, photography, promotional videos and more. 

Her GRCC studies, she said, have benefited her work as a business owner.

“My experience at GRCC has been great so far,” she said. “The classes align with my passions and have helped me come out of my comfort zone. I enjoy learning new things every day, and I am simply looking forward to continuing to learn, finishing my education at an easy pace and making my family proud as a first-generation college graduate.”

This story was reported by Phil de Haan.

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