Alone at 15 when his grandmother died, Bruce Ramirez-Duran has made it to college

After aging out of the foster care system, 19-year-old Bruce Ramirez-Duran is navigating life as an independent college student.

He was born in the United States, but his mother returned to her native Peru when he was a baby and he grew up there. At 14, he moved to Miami to live with his grandmother, but when she died less than a year later, he moved into an emergency shelter.

Ramirez-Duran said he found out about SOS Children’s Villages, an agency that provides foster children with long-term care, education and enrichment opportunities, through a social worker. Because he felt it was a better option than being on his own at 15, he moved into the SOS facility in Coconut Creek and lived there until April. Now he lives on his own.

“I’ve heard many complaints about the system, but I got lucky to be in one of the best places,” he said. “I’ve been told that it is one of the best foster houses in Florida. My experience there was really good in the short time I was there. … I can’t complain because I was given more than I was in my previous life,” in Peru.

(This story first appeared in the Miami Herald)

Ramirez-Duran said he worked hard to learn English and other subjects, graduating from Monarch High School with a 3.75 GPA in June. He is enrolled at Broward College, taking remote classes and said he’s looking forward to experiencing the “college lifestyle” he hears about from his peers. He hopes he’ll get the basic household items he needs through Wish Book.

Ramirez-Duran also works five afternoons a week at a nonprofit called Fitwize 4 Kids, which teaches kids fitness and nutrition. He said he’s still making up his mind about a career.

After he moved out, SOS has continued to help through its Next Step program. The director of Next Step, LaShonda Cross, nominated Ramirez-Duran for the Wish Book.

“I nominated Bruce because I think he is a humble young man, the type to need things but not ask for them and prioritize others’ needs before his own, and I think he is going to be a great success in life,” she said.

She said she was impressed at how hard he worked to learn and continually improve his English skills.

Cross said each of the 126 people in the Next Step program is assigned a life coach who helps their charges navigate the occasionally confusing world of college and job applications, money and the various obligations of adult life. Ramirez-Duran’s life coach is Katchuska Pericles, who is helping him live on his own and figure out his career path.

“He tells me all the time that he doesn’t feel like he deserves all that he was given, and I tell him that he does because he is a good person and he does good,” she said. “That’s one thing that I love about him, . . . that he is humble and is able to recognize and appreciate what he is given. . . . Some people don’t recognize that.”

Pericles said she has created a group chat for the men and women she mentors, helping them to socialize and make connections. She said they bond based on their similar interests — such as music, video games, martial arts, and anime — during a time when independence can feel especially lonely.

Ramirez-Duran’s new life includes a small apartment with two sofas, a small TV, a small bed, and a computer for his schoolwork.

“Currently, his home is bare bones . … I am the kind of individual who wants to feel calm when I am at home and I want the same for him, so he can feel like this house is truly his,” said Cross.

Ana Soler is majoring in journalism with a translation & interpretation certificate at Florida International University. She has a passion for writing and reporting in both English and Spanish. She is a lover of linguistics, pop culture, entertainment, traveling and learning about people of all walks of life.