Most students in high school experience worry and concern about what their next steps will be after they graduate. For Joel Aguilera, an alum student from La Casa Student Housing, it was no different.

“When I was in high school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” said Joel Aguilera. “I knew I liked computers and building things and I thought about possibly majoring in engineering.” Aguilera’s counselor noticed his interest and replaced his study hall with an architecture class that used special software to design and build structures online. “If I wouldn’t have taken that class I probably would have never discovered my love for architecture.”

After graduating high school, Joel worked hard for two years at a community college. He was excited to learn he got accepted into the University of Illinois at Chicago’s (UIC) Architecture Program. Aguilera commuted three hours every day to get to school and back home, which meant losing out on opportunities to connect with other students and participate in activities.

Aguilera spoke to one of his counselors at the UIC Latino American Recruitment and Educational Services office (LARES) about his struggle with commuting.  “I mentioned to my counselor that I was looking for apartments because the commute was becoming too stressful, and when he explained to me what La Casa was, I immediately applied.”

TRP’s La Casa Student Housing and Resource Center aims to empower and help college students succeed academically. After being accepted, Joel was thrilled to be able to live so close to his university.

Being a resident student at La Casa had additional benefits beyond increasing his involvement at UIC. It allowed Aguilera to take advantage of all the resources that La Casa offers including career and budget workshops, a resource center, and a tight knit community.

“After moving into La Casa I felt like I had more time to cultivate friendships with fellow classmates and others who had similar struggles,” noted Joel.  Not only did he become more connected with his college community, but he also became close with his La Casa community. “There are people that live here at La Casa with different backgrounds, goals, and majors and I made friendships that will last a lifetime.”

This past spring, Joel was able to celebrate the fact that he would be earning his Bachelors of Science degree from in Architecture from the University of Illinois at Chicago. “I am the first in my family to get a post-secondary degree, and it is a great accomplishment for my family and I.”

Joel expressed gratitude to all the La Casa staff who encouraged his growth, “Maria Bucio, Director of La Casa, is invested in the students and genuinely wants us to succeed,” Joel said. “Her presence pushed me to accomplish my degree.”

He feels confident about his future and thinks that the experience of living at La Casa helped solidify this confidence. “Living at La Casa taught me that I was not the only student that was struggling, there are a lot of students like me,” noted Joel.

This transformative experience for students could not be possible without the generous support of The John Buck Company Foundation, Chicago Tribune Charities – Holiday Campaign, a McCormick Foundation fund, the A. Montgomery Ward Foundation, and two anonymous donors.

Donate today and become a “Face of TRP.” Your gift will help transform Chicago communities and empower more leaders. Join other passionate supporters from across the country and become a “Face of TRP” by December 25th.


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