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‘My Mother Gave Back to Show Her Gratitude’

Karla Silvestre’s Family Legacy
Karla Silvestre with her parents
Karla Silvestre (center) with parents, Darkis and Antonio Silvestre. Photo credit: Courtesy Karla Silvestre.

Karla Silvestre is a busy woman. On any given day, she can be found balancing the demands of two professional roles that impact the lives of countless Montgomery County community members. As director of community engagement at Montgomery College, Silvestre oversees the College’s efforts to reach underserved residents, increase engagement with community stakeholders, and manage community partnerships. As a Montgomery County at-large school board member and current vice president, she works to ensure that more than 160,000 public school students have access to the educational resources they seek in area schools.

Staying engaged and giving back to the community are family values for Silvestre, who credits her commitment to uplifting others to the life lessons instilled in her by both of her parents, Darkis and Antonio Silvestre. When the Silvestre family fled violence in Guatemala and moved to the United States, Silvestre was just 8 years old. Not speaking any English, her parents took whatever work they could find and enrolled their children in the local schools. 
When asked about her experience as a new immigrant, Silvestre is quick to mention the help her family received from others—an acknowledgement that greatly influences all aspects of her life.

“Everyday people, from our priest to our teachers, went above and beyond to help my family and to support our education and sense of belonging,” she says. “My mother then gave back for the rest of her life. I wanted to honor her legacy by continuing to give back by helping students better afford a college education through scholarships.”

After her mother passed away, Silvestre established the  Darkis Ester Silvestre Scholarship, a current-use scholarship for undocumented students. Like the students who receive her mother’s scholarship, Silvestre was also undocumented after her family’s travel visas expired. She knows firsthand the challenges students in this position face and is committed to helping others have opportunities to pursue an education and the opportunities it provides.  

“My family won our political asylum case before I graduated high school, giving me legal status,” says Silvestre. “I can’t help but wonder what road my life would have taken if I continued to be undocumented and did not have access to financial aid. Would I have gone to college at all?”