Dinuba High graduate Nayelí Castillo-Correa was lauded a hero for saving her two young siblings from sexual abuse and homelessness.
Castillo-Correa, the school’s only Dell Scholar, lived in a van for nearly four months last year under the abusive relationship of her father, who forced Nayelí’s mother to take drugs.
Just two days prior to her 18th birthday, she marched with the Emperors’ Class of 2018 in the commencement ceremony last Wednesday (May 30) night with the school’s highest honors and a 4.3 GPA.
She’ll soon leave for USC, where she’ll study business and political science.
Watching the deterioration of her younger siblings, Jair, 13, and Gabriel, 5, was simply too much to bear, so Castillo-Correa made the choice to call child protective services (CPS) to report the abuse and condition of the family.
She remembers telling her younger brothers the reason for the call.
“I told them, ‘It’s going to be better even though it doesn’t seem like it. This is the best decision, and in the future, we’re going to be grateful for this.’ And, we were separated at first, but now we’re together,” she said.
School officials stepped up to help her through the experience. A school counselor arranged for the showers to be made available to her, and an AVID teacher even gave her money for food. She also obtained extended time for school work.
“She (They) did it out of their hearts. Without them I wouldn’t be here,” said Castillo-Correa unsuccessful in fighting the tears, “My siblings; it hurt seeing them in that situation, and me not being able to do anything about it. I had to make a change.”
All three siblings have lived with her aunt in foster care for nearly a year. Castillo-Correa admits she’s matured and is eager to begin her college education at USC.
Nayelí said she explained to her brothers the example she wants to be for them.
“I was homeless. I was facing a lot of abuse and neglect. It was going on for many months, and I didn’t know what to do because I was like mother to my two siblings,” she said.
Her mother, Delia Castillo, is on recovery, and was happy to see her oldest daughter at the graduation. According to Castillo-Correa, her father is now away from the family. Nayelí said the abuse didn’t come from her mother, Delia.
“She’s good now. She’s trying to get us back,” said Castillo-Correa of her mother. “I’m really happy that she’s trying to change her life, and trying to get back in our lives.”
“I’m so happy and proud for her. Since she was young, I’ve been telling her that she could achieve all her goals,” said Nayelí’s mother, Delia, a native of Guanajuato, México. Delia said she arrived to the U.S. about 20 years ago.
“It’s time that she’s taking off on her own life now, and everything she desires in life,” added Delia about her daughter soon leaving for college.
Castillo-Correa’s brothers hugged her and gave her flowers. Numerous classmates, including some from Reedley High School, see her as an inspiration.
“She inspires me so much. All the odds are against her, she’s still going for her dream, she’s still got the Dell Scholarship that she wanted. It’s just amazing to me,” said Reedley High Dell Scholar Lorena Orozco, who met Castillo-Correa two years ago through the Upward Bound program.
“Once you hear her story, you would have never imagined that’s where she came from, so just for someone to be that positive and that driven, it’s very amazing,” said Vanessa Barragán, a Reedley High graduate who has known Castillo-Correa for three years.
“I’m OK. I’m one of the valedictorians; I’m think I’m good. I’m grateful to all the people who helped all throughout high school. All the difficulties I had to go through, and the people who helped me through all those things,” she said.
“I feel real happy and grateful. I feel very confident in myself with how strong I am, and how strong I’ve become. I feel like nothing can really stop me now.”