(The profile below was first written in spring 2012. In May of 2013, Yvette Robles and Bonnie Quintero will graduate from SBVC together. Bonnie served as a member of Associated Student Government in 2012-2013 and will continue her studies at UC Berkeley in Fall 2013).

Success stories in the Silicon Valley often begin inside of a parent’s garage—with the entrepreneurial lessons learned from those halcyon days forming the basis for monumental successes in the technological world.

Here in the San Bernardino Valley, Yvette Robles and her six young children lived in the garage of her mother’s San Bernardino home for four years—not as a revolutionary new business was taking shape—but simply in order to survive. Although they likely didn’t realize it at the time, the lessons from those four challenging years would also shape all of their lives for generations to come. Trapped in an abusive relationship, the refuge of her mother’s garage was the only escape for Yvette and her children.

“I remember the fear in my son’s voice when he asked me if his dad was going to be in a bad mood when he got home. That’s when I knew I had to break the cycle—I felt like he might harm me if I didn’t get out,” Yvette said. “Refusing to leave situations like that seemed to be programmed into my family for some reason and so I knew I just had to leave and I left with nothing. It was a horrible time in my life and women and children need to know that there are options---something that I didn’t know about for so long.”

Somehow, through the difficult years of babies and toddlers growing up together in the cozy confines of a garage, the importance of education emerged as an absolute necessity—a reality evidenced by the lofty educational goals her kids are pursuing nearly a decade later.

Yvette’s oldest son graduated from UC Berkeley and proceeded to earn his Master’s degree from Cal State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB). Three of her sons are currently studying at local community colleges while her daughter Bonnie joined her at SBVC in fall 2011 after being accepted into the Valley-Bound Commitment program which provides a free first year of college for local high school graduates.

Now residing in Colton with five members of the family still living at home, Yvette is inching closer to completing the requirements in the human services field with the goal of transferring to CSUSB.

“I want to help people who are in the same unhealthy situations as I was. I want to let them know that education is the key or they will continue to struggle like I did,” Yvette said. “I had to work, take care of kids, and be a mom first, but I told my kids that it’s not if they are going to college, it’s just a matter of where.”

Outside the classroom, Yvette enjoys cheering on her daughter Bonnie who was the starting shortstop on the 2012 SBVC softball team. Bonnie’s goal is to earn her Master’s degree in social work from CSUSB—and she’s well on her way after earning a 3.69 grade point average in her first semester and has become an active member in Associated Student Government (ASG) in her second year on campus. Based on the example set by her mother, Bonnie’s desire is, unsurprisingly, to help others.

“I’ve always wanted to help people,” Bonnie said. “I want to work with kids that are struggling because sometimes they just need a little motivation and support.”

Surviving……And Thriving

Yvette recalls how enduring a difficult childhood provided her with the strength she needed to overcome the challenges in her life and make the tough choices to improve her family’s future prospects.

“My mom left my dad when I was only 3 years old and we didn’t have a lot of structure,” Yvette admitted. “I didn’t know much about education and was forced to become the adult in my family at a very early age.”

After becoming pregnant at 17 and quitting school, she surely had no idea that nearly 18 years later in 2005, that grown child would motivate her to go back and get her high school diploma only days removed from her son’s own high school graduation. While holding down a steady job, Yvette has been taking classes at SBVC since 2005 and is now only a few classes away from transferring to CSUSB with the goal of becoming a social worker.

“The message I’ve given my kids over the years is that they can play sports, get a job, or do whatever they want as long as they continue their education,” Yvette said. “What you learn at school is what opens doors to the future.”

Overcoming the Odds Again

As a sophomore in high school, Bonnie had a serious epileptic seizure and doctors soon discovered a lesion on her brain. Focal seizures, heavy medication and headaches took their toll on Bonnie—none more than having to quit playing softball for the first time since she was 8 years old.

“I remember thinking that I would be dependent on medicine for the rest of my life. Since my Nana (grandmother) had died from a brain aneurysm, my mom pulled me out of all extra activities,” Bonnie said.

Almost instantly, a concerned mother began to treasure every moment of her daughter’s suddenly fragile life.

“I would celebrate and tear up at the same time with every milestone she reached like earning a driver’s license, prom, and more,” Yvette shared. “Even attending each softball game here at SBVC feels like another milestone to celebrate in her life.”

After many years of adjusting her medication and multiple re-evaluations, Bonnie was cleared to return to the softball diamond and is enjoying a leadership role as the starting shortstop for the Wolverines. Although the team faced a challenging season, Bonnie started every game this season and led the team in sacrifice bunts.

“I’m just so proud that with every obstacle she has faced, she does what it takes to get over it. “But, then again, all my kids are like that,” Yvette said with a chuckle.

Achieving Educational Goals Together

In the fall semester of 2011, Bonnie and Yvette took child development classes (one attended in the evening, the other during the day) and were able to share books and notes. Mother and daughter still have their arguments like in any family, but they both described how they support each other every day—even offering up their cherished parking spot on campus when the other is running late to class.

“Bonnie proofreads my work and helps tutor me all the time, but we are still competitive,” Yvette admitted. “For a family that even competes at family games of Pictionary, I was happy to get a “B”, but she got an “A” of course.”

Yvette’s dream job would be to be able to work with a shelter for battered women and children.

“If I can help people, that is all that matters,” Yvette said. “It’s not about earning money as a job, it’s about letting people know that they deserve more in life.”

Bonnie’s describes her mom as “a beautiful woman who always made sure that we were good people first—before education and everything.”

Although their family still struggles financially with the youngest child still in middle school, the days of cramming the family into living in a garage are far behind them.

“I know that if we would have stayed living where we did, I don’t know where I would be today,” Bonnie said. “I still drive by that garage almost every day and remember praying with my brothers and sisters and being scared.”

The tightly-knit family can still come together and rally around each other when needed—just like those days in the garage.

“When one of us is hurting, we’re all hurting,” Yvette said.

Bonnie added: “Even now, we sometimes all find ourselves in one bedroom talking together.”