Jesus Nunez’s interest in fixing trucks was inspired by his stepdad—not by how many times he’s moved. His stepdad enjoys working on automobiles, and Jesus, who never met his biological father nor had much to do with his first stepdad, has always liked to watch this father figure lift the hood of a vehicle and figure out how to get it running again.
Now a senior at Venice High School and a STRIVE Award recipient, Jesus has moved all his life. He was born in Taylor, Texas, a town northeast of Austin, and as a baby moved with his mom to Mexico. From Mexico, he moved to Orlando, where he and his mom and later his two sisters moved from place to place. As Jesus said, “Something would always happen, and we’d move again.”
Every year, it seemed, he began a new school. He always felt like he was starting over and learned quickly that it was best not to make friends or get excited about the new school.
When Jesus began fourth grade, he had to start over again, this time in Bradenton. His mom had remarried, and Jesus’s new stepdad moved there for his job. While Jesus liked this stepdad, he still had to adjust to a new school and a new town while worrying that, just as he made new friends and settled into the new school, he would leave again.
And of course that happened. He moved from Bradenton to Palmetto after his stepdad got a promotion. He changed schools again, and in ninth and tenth grade, Jesus just stopped trying. He failed most of his classes. Aside from his parents, he had little support and few friends. He felt as if it were only a matter of time before he would pack up everything and move again.
Jesus became so disinterested in school that he thought about dropping out. But at the urging of his mom and stepdad, whose positive encouragement he credits with helping him persist, he continued to attend, even if he didn’t see the point in doing so.
After his sophomore year, the family, struck with financial troubles, did indeed end up moving again, this time heading south to Venice. As he packed up his room, Jesus assumed his experience at a new school would be no different than they’d been in the past.
At Venice High School, though, Jesus found support in the form of his English as a Second Language teacher and teachers in his Apex classes, which he needs to take to earn the credits necessary to graduate. These teachers pushed him to do his work and provided the support and encouragement that had been missing at other schools. “They would cheer me on each time I got a good grade on a test or a quiz,” he said. “It really helped a lot.”
When he began his senior year, he reviewed his high school transcripts with his Apex teacher and saw the dramatic improvement he’d made since arriving at Venice High School. He saw that there was hope and learned something more important than the material in his schoolbooks: he learned, as he said, “that I could do it if I put my mind to it.”
This hope was tested when Hurricane Ian slammed ashore at the end of September. The day before the storm hit, Jesus had traveled to South Carolina with his family to see his stepbrother graduate from basic training in the Marines. When they returned, their house was flooded and would soon begin to mold, and for the next few weeks they lived at the senior living community where his mom works.
But instead of moving again, in the aftermath of the storm, Jesus and his stepdad worked on repairing the house and helping neighbors put their lives back together. Although they’d lost so many of their possessions in the storm, he was glad to be working with his stepdad, rebuilding. He was glad to be staying put.
In the fall, Jesus plans to attend Suncoast Technical College, where he will study to become a mechanic. He remains fascinated with automobiles, especially trucks. “I like working on cars that have big engines,” he said. He is excited to learn how to solve complex problems and with his own hands rebuild engines and restore cars.
Jesus’s advice to incoming freshmen: “Be around supportive people. Being around people who support you and encourage you to go forward really makes a difference.”
About the STRIVE Awards
The STRIVE Awards were born out of H. Jack Hunkele’s vision to recognize students who have overcome tremendous challenges to succeed in life. Thanks to the H. Jack Hunkele Charitable Foundation and other generous donors, the Education Foundation of Sarasota County, in partnership with Sarasota County Schools, highlights the resilience and grit of students across our county. During award ceremonies at their high schools, STRIVE Award recipients receive cash gifts for education after high school as well as recognition. They are invited to serve as student leaders promoting resilience and persistence, and they are connected to Education Foundation resources such as student success coaching, mentoring, workshops, and more.
The stories of STRIVE Award recipients serve to inspire readers and remind them to continue striving when life delivers challenging, unexpected experiences.
Learn more about the STRIVE Awards and this year’s remarkable recipients: EdFoundationSRQ.org/STRIVE2023