By Lauren Pastrana

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) — September is “Hunger Action Month”, and our latest “South Florida Survivor” knows what it’s like to wonder where her next meal will come from.

Elizabeth Mejia is passionate about education.

Her appetite for knowledge and thirst for social justice led her to a career with Communities in Schools of Miami.

“The purpose is to make sure kids stay in school,” she told CBS 4’s Lauren Pastrana. “That’s the ultimate purpose. Make sure they stay in school, they graduate, and go on to a successful life. We feel that’s the best way to look at poverty to break the cycle.”

That cycle is one Elizabeth knows firsthand.

“I was raised in a housing project up North in Connecticut. It was one of the most violent housing projects in that area. A lot of violence, a lot of gangs. It wasn’t a safe neighborhood. All I knew I was like, please just get me out of here,” she said.

Elizabeth’s father was a security guard killed on the job when she was just a little girl.

Her mother was the victim of domestic abuse.

Elizabeth says as a kid, she used to beg on the street for food.

“I would go to school hungry and my stomach would be growling,” she said. “We’d eat oatmeal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I was so sick of oatmeal. We’d go to the food bank, get government issued cheese and government issued food. By the middle of the month, you’d have less and less and less until the end of the month. It’s not a good place to be.”

She knew education would be her way out.

“I don’t want to live here anymore. That’s all I know. I got to college, because of a program like Communities in Schools,” Mejia explained.

Elizabeth studied social work, and now, she helps students who are facing the same challenges she dealt with growing up- violence, poverty, and hunger.

“When they realize that I come from the same place there’s two reactions,” she said. “One is ‘yeah, they get it.’ And two is hope, like ‘how did you get out of that?'”

Her answer to that question is her recipe for success.

“I think what makes me a survivor is never quitting. No matter what life dishes out. You just keep going forward,” she said. “I tell them just day by day, life will change. You have to have faith. Life will change. No matter how difficult life is, you will get through it. We are meant to be survivors.”

Elizabeth wrote a book about her experience called “Life From The Stoop.”

Despite everything she’s been through, she says her story is one of hope and love, and she wanted to share that with the world.

Visit Communities in Schools of Miami and Hunger Action Month for more information.


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