‘I HAVE TO DO THIS’: Covid killed her father, but straight-A student vows nothing will stop her big dreams

By Emily Sullivan
The Palm Beach Post

In the Calderon family’s Belle Glade mobile home, walls are termite-ridden, flooring is damaged and the ceiling droops, leaking water.

Jasmine Calderon, 17, says her family was looking for a house, a safe place where she and her sisters, ages 12 and 24, could have Internet access and their own beds.

But that was then, back when her father, David Calderon-Vital, was alive.

Four days after Father’s Day, Calderon-Vital died of coronavirus complications.

He was the only financial provider for his wife and three daughters, one of whom was born profoundly deaf.

Until she lost her dad, Jasmine says, “we never needed anything.”

They made do in the decades-old mobile home, where photos adorn the fridge and parallel couches act as desks for virtual classes. Her parents, who immigrated from Guerrero, Mexico, moved there in 2002 from another Belle Glade trailer.

But stripped of Calderon-Vital’s income, the family faces looming costs for rent, utilities and other needs. Job searching for Jasmine’s mom is frozen due to her virus-related fears, and the pandemic halted Jasmine’s $10-an-hour mentoring gig.

Striving to help her family the best way she knows, Jasmine says she is waiting for her mentoring program to restart and eyeing a library job while continuing to lean into academics, college scholarship pursuits and long-term ambitions.

“I have to do this,” said Jasmine, who is valedictorian and student body president at Pahokee High School. “I wanna make sure that my mom is OK, my older sister is OK.”

Jasmine also dual-enrolled at Palm Beach State College, and brought home A’s despite positive coronavirus test results for the entire family.

Her father encouraged her dreams. “This little trailer isn’t going to be your home forever,” he’d say.

Jasmine said she hopes to finish studying political science and the environment, whether at PBSC, Florida State University or another school.

Then, she said, she’ll return to Belle Glade.

“My dad is buried here. My roots are literally here. I have to come back and I want to,” Jasmine said. “I just want to fight for families who have been through the same thing as me … feeling like the entire world is against you.”

Her goals stem from her urge “to do right by” her dad, whose work ethic was visible in the sweat he wore home from his job at a sugarcane manufacturer and his own efforts at a young age to help in the wake of his dad’s death.

“He wanted me to be better, just in general, and I think I understood that because I would see how hard he would work for us, constantly,” Jasmine said. “He would say that really nothing else matters, just your family.”

JASMINE’S WISH

Jasmine Calderon’s father died June 25 due to coronavirus complications, leaving his wife and daughters, one who is deaf, without his income from a job at a sugarcane manufacturer. The family needs help with costs of rent at their mobile home, utilities, car insurance  and trailer repairs. Two laptop computers, school supplies and clothes would help the three-student family. A green TI-84 Plus calculator would be useful for Jasmine’s studies, and help securing a hotel, vehicle and food would let her attend the Florida State Spanish Conference. “We wouldn’t be asking if we didn’t really need it,” Jasmine said.

Nominating agency: Take Stock in Children Palm Beach County.

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