Twins beat tough challenges to graduate

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© John Cressy/VCOE
Identical twins Valerie and Vanessa Montoya overcome adversity to graduate from Hueneme High School. © John Cressy/VCOE
Identical twins Vanessa and Valerie Montoya have already endured much adversity during their young lives.

The 18-year-old Hueneme High students come from a broken home and their mother Debra died of breast cancer when they were in seventh grade, leaving them in foster care. Vanessa and Valerie were placed with grandparents they barely knew, an arrangement, they say, that was filled with anger and tension.

Even so, the arrangement lasted four years, but reached a breaking point when the twins were juniors in high school. Their grandparents gave up custody of them.

While happy about the split with their grandparents, Vanessa and Valerie were afraid they would have to be placed in separate foster homes. “We’re not only twins, we’re best friends and for much of our lives we’ve had only each other,” Vanessa explained.

Luckily, the twins were able to be placed with the same foster family for three months until they were taken in by their cousin Diane Navarro and her husband Henry.

“Things are much better for us now,” Vanessa said, smiling. But after years of turmoil and neglecting their studies, the damage was done.

“Last year I looked at my progress report and it was straight F’s,” Valerie said. “No C’s, no D’s, all F’s.”

Vanessa’s grades weren’t much better. “We knew we had to get serious about school fast,” she said.

They hit the books, attended summer school and worked with Hueneme High counselor Xochitl Gomez on a plan to catch up on their credits. They’ve raised their grades to B’s and on June 10 graduated.

“They’re beautiful, eloquent young women, and I know they’re going to accomplish great things,” Gomez said. “Never once have they complained about their circumstances or have they ever said, ‘I can’t do this.’”

Both plan to attend Ventura College in the fall. Vanessa wants to study theater arts and hopes to one day become a movie makeup artist.

Vanessa said she first became interested in the field when she started applying makeup to her mother to help her cheer up as she was undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments for her cancer. “It made me happy to make her happy,” she said.

Valerie has her sights set on a career in social work. “I want to help foster kids as they go through the things I went through and make it better for them,” she said. “I want to change things.”

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