By: Jeannette Rivera-Lyles
Belén Infante, aged 25, moved from Pennsylvania to Central Florida three years ago to raise her two sons closer to extended family and further her education. Following her high school graduation, she wanted to pursue a college degree. Nonetheless, life got in the way time and again. One day, she told herself that this time it would be different, but the earth shook under her feet, almost tearing her down, along with her dreams.
Belén’s youngest son, Alexander, who was two at the time, was diagnosed with leukemia. Managing this serious illness required frequent and prolonged hospital stays, which meant that attending a traditional college was impossible for Belén. Nonetheless, she was not ready to give up. As her son slept in his hospital bed, she opened an old laptop and researched online college programs. When she read about Florida Technical College’s online Business Associate Degree, she knew this was the school for her.
“Obtaining a degree in 18 months, without having to leave my son’s side, was an incredible opportunity,” Belén stated. “I was determined to follow my dreams and stay positive. I knew that it would make me a better mom.”
Completing the online lessons was not easy, but Belén persevered. That meant doing most of the work in a freezing cold hospital room with an unstable Internet connection. She had to wait for her son to take a nap or study late at night. Sometimes, she could not submit her work on time because her computer was not working properly. Through it all, FTC instructors and staff provided unconditional support.
“All my instructors knew about my son,” Belén commented. “They were very patient and afforded me the flexibility to take care of him while pursuing my education. I am very grateful for their care and support.”
FTC Kissimmee Executive Director, Gabriel Garces, explained that Belén’s tenacity on the face of adversity was inspirational for everyone at Florida Technical College.
“It was truly moving to see this young mother caring for a very sick child, while creating a better future for her family by getting an education,” Garces said. “The thought of quitting didn’t seem to cross her mind. She showed extraordinary strength, responsibility and tenacity.”
Belén recently obtained her associate degree in business, but this story does not end here. Her lifelong dream has been to own a bakery that makes artisanal breads, cakes and pastries. Currently, she is enrolled in FTC’s award-winning Baking and Pasteleria program.
“I got a degree in business because I wanted to ensure that I could successfully manage my own business,” she said. “Many entrepreneurs fail the first year they start a business because they don’t know how to run it. I don’t want that to happen to me.”
With her son’s illness now in remission, Belén now attends the Kissimmee campus, where she also has a job through the work-study program and volunteers organizing student events, such as graduations and Spirit Day. She is already planning to do an externship at a family-owned German bakery.
“I look forward to learning new techniques and developing skills that will allow me to reach my goal of owning a business,” she stated. “I love to learn, and FTC has helped me do it in a way that allows me to be present in the lives of my two young sons. This school is now part of my extended family.”
Belen’s is expected to graduate from the Baking and Pasteleria program on November 2018.