Ileana Montano has been working at Mr Liquor Store for two years. Photo by Juan Carlos Lara

Ileana Montano is a busy woman. She splits her days working at Mr. Liquor Store on the corner of Valencia and 23rd streets and going to college full time. Her nights are for homework and her four-year-old daughter. 

Montano, who emigrated from Nicaragua as a child 22 years ago, said that during her first attempt at City College she felt aimless, uncertain of what she wanted to study. 

“I was on and off at city college,” Montano said. 

After her daughter was born, Montano sought help enrolling in the Calworks program (which provides assistance to low-income families). She was inspired by Marie Claire Balea, a social worker she met, and decided that she too had “a passion for helping people.” 

 That realization made Montano determined to get a college degree. 

“I told her I wanted to go back to school and she was there for me and supported me,” Montano said of Balea. “She even went with me to register at City College.” 

Montano returned in 2017 and finished her lower-division courses in almost three years. She was in her last semester preparing to transfer to San Francisco State University when Covid-19 cancelled all in-person classes.

Last week, Montano began her second semester at SFSU, and her third semester online. 

“English is not my first language,” Montano said, which makes online classes even more difficult and frustrating. 

“I have self-doubt issues. It’s hard being a single mom, and working part-time and going to school full-time,” Montano said, “I’m nervous but I’m trying to be positive.” 

“My daughter is so little, and demands attention,” Montano said, “I don’t sleep much. It’s tough.”

Nevertheless, she  hopes to graduate by spring 2022 and work as a social worker to help people like Balea helped her. 

“Being a social worker, you can be more hands-on, really make a difference,” Montano said. 

Juan Carlos Lara

Juan Carlos Lara covers business and development in the Mission. Juan Carlos, a San Francisco State alum, is as much a photographer as he is a writer and previously worked as the campus news editor at...

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4 Comments

  1. My dear friend you got this, I couldn’t be more proud of you . You are a good example of women’s empowerment. Love you from where to the moon and back

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