Rooted in Resilience

Veronica Mendez waiving with her gown on

Veronica Mendez Garcia (BA ’22) almost didn’t go to college. Once she started, she wondered if she should continue, and there were moments when dropping out seemed like the logical alternative. She spent hours sobbing in her bedroom questioning her choices and wondering if the future could possibly hold anything better than what she’d always known. Could a life beyond picking fruit actually exist for her?

An exemplary student, Mendez Garcia was elected FPU’s student body president for the 2021- 22 school year, yet she couldn’t help but thinkthat none of it would matter. As an undocumented immigrant, she feared she wouldn’t be able to work anywhere but in the fields regardless of her academic accomplishments.

Anchored by the newfound faith in Jesus she discovered at FPU, Mendez Garcia pressed on despite numerous uncertainties. She remained steadfast on the path the Lord set before her when she made her first campus visit as a high school senior. “I knew the minute I visited FPU that it’s where I wanted to be,” she says. “It felt like home.”

Mendez Garcia had already known several different homes. She was born in Oaxaca, Mexico, where she lived until her family immigrated to Florida when she was 4. Her family moved to Madera, where there is a large Oaxacan community, when she was 9. She was only 12 when she started working alongside her mom in the fields, picking blueberries in the spring and grapes in the fall. Her five older brothers also worked in the fields, and she was the only one of her siblings who continued attending school.


When Mendez Garcia graduated from Madera High School in 2018, she became her family’s first high school graduate. She was accepted to several state universities, but their size overwhelmed her. The fact that FPU is a Christian university meant nothing to her at the time, but she was drawn to the sense of community and acceptance she found. Sixty percent of traditional undergraduates at FPU are first-generation students and 59% of students across all programs are Hispanic, allowing Mendez Garcia to feel that she belonged. “FPU helped me break out of my shell,” she says. “It was my safe place where I could be myself.”

Financial aid from both the government and the university made it possible for Mendez Garcia to attend. This year, The Wall Street Journal gave FPU the highest social mobility score of Christian schools nationwide. The social mobility score is awarded to universities that enhance their graduates’ lives by accepting a high proportion of students from low-income families, maintaining high graduation rates and minimizing attendance costs. “I think Latinos and other nationalities are well-represented at FPU,” Mendez Garcia says.

Mendez Garcia eventually landed on social work as a major when she felt God calling her to a career in which she could help people. While double majoring in social work and history and minoring in sociology, Mendez Garcia commuted to campus from Madera and continued working in the fields with her mom as her school schedule allowed. She wasn’t documented to work anywhere else, and the thought of leaving her mom’s side stirred feelings of guilt.

While she excelled academically, Mendez Garcia admits to feeling spiritually lost during her early days at FPU. She was raised Roman Catholic and worried the beliefs she’d grown up with wouldn’t be accepted by her professors and peers. Despite her misgivings, she kept her mind open. With the love and guidance of her professors, she learned to hold space in her heart for both her childhood religion and a burgeoning personal faith in Jesus Christ, to whom she fully committed her life while at FPU. “I have a better understanding of the Roman Catholic church and the other branches of Christianity,” she says. “I’m still spiritually growing, and I can go back and talk to my professors when I have doubts and fears.”

Going to FPU helped me find my purpose”
Veronica Mendez Garcia


When she graduated from FPU in 2022, in addition to being student body president, Mendez Garcia was the recipient of numerous academic awards. She ran for president to show other students in her position what was possible for those willing to work hard. “I wanted to represent students as a Hispanic, first-generation female student, and I thought other students would feel comfortable with me,” she says.

Veronica Mendez waiving with her gown on

She went on to earn her master’s degree in social work from California Baptist University, graduating the following year. During her internship at Focus Forward, where she worked as a mentor for incarcerated youth in Fresno County, she discovered a heart for serving that population. “When I started my master’s degree I had no idea that what I want to do is therapy,” she says.

Now an associate clinical social worker at A Mind Above in Clovis, Mendez Garcia provides counseling to a diverse clientele. She’s working toward the 3,000 hours needed to become a licensed clinical social worker and hopes to eventually return to working with incarcerated teens or those in the foster care system. “I feel like I’m called to that population,” she says. “That’s where my heart is.”

Part of her heart, anyway. The rest remains with the mother and big brothers who supported her educational journey. She continues living with her family in Madera, and dreams of buying them a home. She hopes to inspire her nieces and nephews to follow in her footsteps and attend college. Having attained the status to live and work in the U.S., Mendez Garcia will be eligible to apply for residency this year and can apply for citizenship in three years.

Mendez Garcia says that had she not taken the chance on college despite feeling the odds stacked against her, she would likely still be working in the fields. She credits FPU with changing her life, as it has those of many other students from minority and low-income families. “I’m very thankful,” Mendez Garcia says. “I’m already helping support my family in ways I wouldn’t be able to if I was still working in the fields.”

Outside the professional and financial stability her degree will help provide, Mendez Garcia is grateful for the personal and spiritual growth she experienced at FPU, crediting her time here with helping her develop into the woman of God she is today. “Going to FPU helped me find my purpose and I don’t know if that would have happened at another school,” she says. “I don’t think I would have had such a spiritual journey anyplace else.”

I’m already helping support my family in ways I wouldn’t be able to if I was still working in the fields.”
Veronica Mendez Garcia