Harlingen native receives scholarship for medical studies

John Garcia, 31, is one of two 2019-2020 recipients of the J.A. Knowles Scholarship, which is awarded to students who spent their high school years in any orphanage, children's home or foster care in Texas. (Delcia Lopez/The Monitor dlopez@themonitor.com)

HARLINGEN — John Garcia, 31, has always had an interest in the medical field.

However, because of his life circumstances, he felt like that career seemed out of reach.

Homeless until age 15, Garcia decided to enter the foster care system where he spent the rest of his youth.

After years of serving in the military and attending college on and off, he recently received something that will help him get another step closer to making his dream become a reality.

In the fall, Garcia received the J.A. Knowles Scholarship, which is awarded annually to students who spent their high school years in any orphanage, children’s home or foster care in Texas.

The scholarship is administered by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) Office of Loans and Scholarships, and it “offers significant assistance in helping students fund their education,” according to the ministry’s website.

Garcia is one of two 2019-2020 recipients to receive the scholarship, which is helping him pursue a master’s degree in physician assistant studies at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg.

“I’m extremely grateful for these opportunities,” Garcia said. “The fact that every effort that is made to help populations that receive so little goes a long way, so I want to encourage others to continue supporting these people.”

When Garcia is not studying, he works with a local foster care system where he offers motivational speeches and aims to inspire kids who are experiencing the same situations he did.

This past summer, he traveled to Washington, D.C. with the National Foster Youth Institute.

“I was a part of 100 former foster youth from all over the nation that were essentially speaking with congressmen and advocating for change in the foster care system,” Garcia said. “It’s been a great journey trying to make the world better for these people that obviously can’t do very much on their own, especially in a marginalized population.”

Garcia said being in foster care motivated him to succeed.

“I’ve overcome a lot, but I’m not satisfied because I know that I feel capable of achieving more,” Garcia said. “I’m trying to be a role model to show people that despite where we may come from, and the fact that we may not have a support system, it is possible to break through and have a good turnout.”

After attending college for a few years, Garcia enlisted in the military where he served as a U.S. Marine for four years until he was injured in combat and medically retired.

While deployed in Afghanistan, Garcia trained as a combat lifesaver and gained his first medical experience.

“I was able to essentially help a lot of people render first aid and such in combat situations,” Garcia explained. “I was very driven to get back to doing something in medicine once I got back from the military and that’s how my pursuit in medical education began.”

Garcia said serving made a huge impact in his life and has afforded him the opportunity to pursue his dreams.

“ I am very thankful for everything this country has given me,” Garcia said. “I’m a first-generation American so coming from my days of homelessness to where I am today and where I strive to be tomorrow — it’s life-changing.”

Garcia said the best advice he would give others is to never give up or let anyone tell them they can’t achieve anything.

“I know we hear that a lot since statistics are not that promising for populations such as former foster youth,” Garcia said.

According to Garcia, at the national level, former foster youth are considered “three percenters,” meaning only three percent of them will graduate college and a lot will end up either dead or in jail at a very young age.

“When that gets instilled in your head or you get told at a very young age when you’re vulnerable, you begin to believe it and set your standards very low,” he said. “Plus, you have… the full plate syndrome — you’re too occupied just trying to survive the day that you kind of stop daydreaming.”