When she walked into the office seven years ago where she met Pam Lehner, Cervantes said she was holding a bouquet of flowers for her.
"I'll always remember that, because, first of all, they were beautiful," Cervantes said. "And second of all, no one had ever done such a nice gesture for me."
She said she had never experienced something like that, let alone from a stranger.
"The feeling of someone making you feel special is invaluable," Cervantes said.
When she was 17 years old, Cervantes signed up to be a mentee with Partners for New Generations though Mountain View High School's AVID program. AIVD, an acronym for Advanced Via Interpersonal Determination, is a program aimed at closing the achievement gap by preparing low-income, minority and first generation college-bound students for college.
Partners for New Generations is one of the recipients of the Voice's Holiday Fund. Donations benefit PNG and six other local nonprofits serving the Mountain View community.
The nonprofit employs three part-time mentor coordinators to match mentors and mentees like Pam and Leslie, said Robert Adams, founder and development chair of Partners for New Generations. The program has approximately 50 tutors, which is growing, and just under 115 mentors, according to Adams. Mentors are required to meet with their mentees at least once every two weeks, must go through youth protection training and be fingerprinted, said Adams.
When Adams founded the program in 1996, he said he was president of the Rotary Club and was inspired by the tutoring program, which he embellished to create Partners for New Generations.
Cervantes said that her self-confidence improved a lot after she began the program. She graduated from Santa Clara University in 2010, then graduated from the National Hispanic University where she is now employed.
Lehner provided Cervantes with all of the knowledge and encouragement she needed to get into college, she said.
"I am absolutely sure that if it were not for Pam, I would never had made it to Santa Clara," Cervantes said.
Cervantes said she was not traditionally college-bound in high school and expected to go to a community college with her friends.
"Being Hispanic, education is not something that's always prioritized, unfortunately," Cervantes said. "But I was fortunate enough to sign up for a mentor."
On the night Cervantes became convinced she was not meant for college, her mentor supported her and gave the encouragement she needed, she said.
The day before her Santa Clara University application was due, Cervantes' apartment was broken into, she said. She had one copy of her personal statement essay saved on her laptop, which was stolen. Cervantes said had spent three months working on her essay and it was taken in one night.
"I remember calling (Pam), it was the night of Halloween, I called her and I said, 'Pam, this is how I know I'm not meant to go to college,'" she said.
Instead, Lehner invited her to her house to use her computer to rewrite her essay. Lehner had even bought Cervantes a Santa Clara University shirt to wear while writing it, for inspiration, according to Cervantes. She was accepted to the university that December.
It was Lehner's constant encouragement regardless of both of their fears that overcame so many obstacles, Cervantes stated. She said that Lehner is her rock.
"I truly know that one person can really change the direction of a young individual's life," she said
Partners for New Generations has given Cervantes so much, she said, that she feels obligated to pay it forward.
"It's a friendship-building sort of environment," Adams said.
Adams said he felt there was a big need for organizations like this.
"I am just very grateful for organizations like (Partners for New Generations) who identifies this need and provide a service that address it," Cervantes said.