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Johileny Meran, homeless teen with cerebral palsy, reflects on first year of college

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“I think a lot has changed from when we first met,” Johileny Meran said.

It's been one year since we introduced you to Johileny Meran.

“Johileny one year later is what?" I asked. "She is redefining herself.”

You may remember her as the homeless high school senior with cerebral palsy who overcame some of life's greatest challenges to become valedictorian. All with her mom's memory in her heart.

“She was the one to tell me that I couldn't stop doing what I was able to do because people didn't think I could do it,” Meran said over a year ago.

Related: Homeless, wheelchair-bound Brooklyn teen overcomes odds, becomes valedictorian

Now, she's just finishing up her freshman year at NYU, thanks to several scholarships.

“I have to be honest, it’s been hard," she said. "It has not been an easy transition at all.”

The 19-year-old struggled with accessibility, navigating the city, tough classes and even some of the basics.

“Just to put it out there, I knew how to do my laundry but the first time I had to do it, it didn’t go as planned," she laughed. "I just couldn’t get the machine to work.”

Instead of letting any of that get her down, it motivated her to do more.

“I’ve learned there’s more to life than just succeeding academically, there’s also having a social life,” Meran explained.

Related: Johileny Meran graduates as valedictorian

And learning how to balance it all with a job, which she has at NYU's 'College Connection.'

“Johileny is a college guide,” Cindy Pineda, her supervisor, described. “Her role is to talk to students about college, and she talks to them about what they’re going to need to be successful in high school to better apply for college.”

“What’s it like for you to be giving back to another generation that is now looking up to you?" I asked Meran. "It feels amazing being an asset to these kids’ experience.”

It's also helping Johileny realize she doesn't have to have it all figured out.

“I always felt like I knew where I was going but now I don’t know where I’m going," she smiled.

One thing she does know though, she wants to help others.

“One of those ways is by going to different places and speaking,” she said. "It’s like this feeling I have that I have the power to make a change.”

While Johileny's outlook is quite bright, she still has her darker days.

“Unfortunately, after I finish [this semester], I have to go back to the shelter [for the summer],” she said.

She does dorm during the school year, but she's fighting to secure an apartment for her grandmother, brother and herself year-round.

“That’s why I’m in college in the first place, I want to get my family out of this poverty situation," she said adamantly.

A selfless mentality she prides herself on, and one that I know will help her continue to evolve from an inspirational girl to a powerful woman.

“This journey is not just for me, it’s for all the other kids coming after me,” Meran said.

To contribute to Johileny's journey, and help her family get an apartment, go to https://www.youcaring.com/johileny-meran-562079

 

Produced by: Kim Pestalozzi