Pilar Fontenla sat in her Glendale home where her son’s train toys occupied the bookshelf, coffee table and floor. There were plastic tracks, locomotives and a smiling “Thomas the Train” puzzle with all the pieces in place.
As Fontenla relayed her life’s current preoccupations — her 4-year-old son, school and work —she looked as excited about life as she has ever been. In the last several years, Fontenla has pulled herself out of a depression that muddled her spirit, leaving her unrecognizable to family and friends.
An abusive and controlling relationship left Fontenla ashamed and hopeless for her own future until she left it, which spurred a deep depression. She considered taking her own life.
“I didn’t want to leave the house,” she said. “I was afraid and ashamed of even going outside. I didn’t want anybody to ask me questions. I didn’t want people to look at me.”
As Fontenla retreated from life she still clung to her parents and close friends. Feeling grateful for what she had, her faith slowly renewed. She began to date, and through a friend, met her son’s father.
She began to think about what she wanted most out of life and made a college degree her priority. She enrolled at Glendale Community College intent on transferring to USC. Her ultimate dream is to work for a major accounting firm in downtown Los Angeles.
She has maintained a 4.0 average at GCC, taking as many as 20 units per semester while caring for her parents, son and tutoring students in accounting and geography at GCC’s Learning Center.
In March, Fontenla was awarded with a first-place $5,000 Woman’s Opportunity Award from Soroptimist International of Glendale, which gives financial grants to female heads of households working toward a degree.
For Olive Warner, the award chair, the decision was easy.
“Hers was the best,” she said of the application. “I was very impressed with her demeanor. You would never guess she had a tough life. You can tell she’s very capable.”
Warner’s thoughts were in step with Shant Shahoian, an English professor at GCC who wrote in a letter to the award committee:
“If you don’t pick Pilar there is something fundamentally wrong with your selection process.”
Shahoian said he does not easily praise his students but Fontenla’s determination was notable.
As Fontenla accepted the honor at the award luncheon, she cried thinking of what she had been through before greeting the women who rushed to hug her.
“There’s nothing that can stop me now,” she said. “I know there’s so much power in a person’s mental capacity. If you have the will, if you have the drive — if you want something, it’s there. Just get it.”