Jayleen Galarza grew up in a U.S. military family and lived abroad before her parents divorced and she and her siblings moved with their mother to the Lehigh Valley.

The family was barely getting by before the divorce but afterward her mother worked long hours in difficult jobs to take care of the three kids in a two-bedroom apartment in Bethlehem.

Neither of Galarza’s parents had gone to college and for her, “it really wasn’t on my radar,” she recalls.

But when she was in eighth grade preparing to go to Freedom High School in Bethlehem, Galarza was chosen to take part in Upward Bound at East Stroudsburg University and that changed everything. As part of the program, she lived in dorms on campus for six weeks each summer, taking classes and going on field trips. During the school year, she and her counterparts from several high schools in the region visited two Saturdays a month for instruction, tutoring, community service and other activities to help prepare for college.

After high school, Galarza enrolled at ESU, graduating in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in English. She went on to earn two master’s degrees from Widener University, one in Clinical Social Work and the other in Human Sexuality, before receiving her Ph.D. there in Human Sexuality. She is now an associate professor in the social work and gerontology department at Shippensburg University.

“Upward Bound instilled hope that I could actually go to college, that my dreams could be bigger than I had imagined,” she says.

On February 26, Galarza will receive a TRIO Achiever Award at a ceremony in Roanoke, Virginia in recognition of her success and her efforts to pay forward the vital assistance she received from Upward Bound, which is one of eight TRIO programs for scholars run by the U.S. Department of Education.

Three days earlier – on February 23 – ESU’s Upward Bound program will hold a Day of Service with its 80-plus students fanning out around the community in the morning to do volunteer work for such organizations as Spring Village at Pocono nursing home and the Salvation Army. At 1 p.m. at Stroud Hall Room 117, keynote speaker Thomas J. Thomas, who is dean of university college student affairs at Wilkes University and a former Upward Bound director, will give a keynote speech, followed by a panel discussion with Upward Bound alumni.

Upward Bound was founded in 1964 as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty initiatives. Today, there are about 900 Upward Bound programs around the country serving more than 70,000 low-income students whose parents did not go to college.

Janine Hyde-Broderick, who directs the program at ESU, is a passionate advocate, in no small part because she is an Upward Bound alumnae herself.

“I never, ever would have had the opportunity to go to college if it had not been for Upward Bound,” Hyde-Broderick says. “They provided us with academic support and the ability to learn to push through the barriers.”

The biggest barrier for most of the students is financial, she said. “A lot of parents will look at the initial price tag of college and go into sticker shock.”

But that’s by no means the only hurdle.

“First of all, you frequently have parents who have never gone to college so they don’t know – even with the best intentions – what they can do to help you get there,” she says. “It’s a totally different world to them.”

The program encourages students to get involved in extracurricular activities and community service that will make them more attractive to colleges and help them get scholarships.

“It just happened recently,” Hyde-Broderick said. “One of the kids got a $100,000 scholarship from Juniata College — $25,000 a year.”

ESU’s Upward Bound graduates about 15-20 students a year and 91 percent of them enroll in college right after high school. Only about 35 percent of low-income kids in that demographic nationwide go to college and graduate within six years, she said. But 65 percent of Upward Bound students complete their bachelor’s or associate degree within six years.

Galarza says Upward Bound not only helped prepare her for college academically but also emotionally, maturing her so she was comfortable living away from home.

“My first year in high school in the summertime, I’m staying in a dorm with all these people, not just from my city but from Allentown, Easton, and Stroudsburg,” she said. “I got really good at figuring out how to live with people who are different from me.”

After attending Upward Bound at ESU for four years in high school, she felt right at home enrolling at the university as a college freshman. Following graduation, Galarza became ESU’s first Campus Compact AmeriCorps-VISTA member, working on anti-poverty initiatives.

She credits Professor John Kraybill-Greggo, department chair of the sociology, social work & criminal justice department, for sparking her interest in social work and later supervising her efforts with AmeriCorps-VISTA.

Kraybill-Greggo says Galarza laid the groundwork and created connections with the community that would help the AmeriCorps-VISTA members who came after her.

“Jayleen was a self-starter and deeply committed to addressing those initiatives,” he said.

The public speaking class Galarza took through Upward Bound made her more comfortable giving presentations, a skill she uses daily as a professor.

In October, she gave the keynote address for the ESU celebration of LGBTQ History Month, titled “My So-Called Queer Latina Life: In Search of Authenticity, Connection and Justice.”

“I was expecting maybe 20-50 people to show up,” she said. “The place was standing room only!”

Hyde-Broderick nominated Galarza for the TRIO achiever award and plans to be there when she receives it this month.

“Jayleen has been a very active alum in our program,” Hyde-Broderick said. “She always comes back and speaks to our kids. She knows what it’s like to really have to fight for an education. She’s just an outstanding professor, an outstanding person.”

The influence of Upward Bound on Galarza’s life continues to have ripple effects. With Jayleen as a role model, her brother went to college for computer science and now works on computer security systems for airplanes with the U.S. Air Force in Japan. Her 16-year-old niece is planning on going to college.

“To me my job isn’t just about teaching,” she said. “It has to connect back to those social justice roots. The seeds that were implanted so long ago are still there.”