Omar Bahena of Desert Hot Springs High School is one of just 30 high school seniors to be named a 2021 Edison Scholar. He’s now the recipient of a $40,000 scholarship to pursue science, technology, engineering of math (STEM) studies.
Bahena sat down with News Channel 3’s Madison Weil and shared more about the challenging circumstances he has overcome.
He explains his family lost their home in January 2020 after his father was injured while working at his job. He says his family was unable to make payments on the home.
“We only had 24 hours to get everything out,” he said. “We were moving from hotel to hotel kind of...begging them not to kick us out.”
Bahena says his family moved around from various hotels to RVs to trailers: “I think we even had to sleep outside sometimes.”
Juggling homelessness, while also trying to apply to colleges, scholarships and maintaining good grades, he says the last few years took a toll on his mental health.
“I had a lot of anxiety, depression. It was actually the lowest point of my life," Bahena said.
His stress, made worse by the pandemic as he tried to keep up with distance learning.
“We didn’t know this but he was in a corner in the RV trying to do his work,” said Tyler Williams, Bahena’s school guidance counselor. “If you look at his transcript, you would never think he’s been through what he’s been through."
Circumstances only got harder for Bahena when his entire family tested positive for COVID-19 last fall.
“My mom was actually on the verge of passing away...so I thank God for everything that he’s given me,” said Bahena.
Behena had to take care of his parents and two younger sisters but through it all, he never lost sight of his dream to become an engineer.
“Get a great job, give everything to my family... to this community,” he said.
His work and resilience finally paid off. Bahena shared he’ll be studying electrical engineering at UCLA in the fall. He’s also been accepted to a program with NASA.
He hopes to return to Desert Hot Springs one day to help lift up others:
“To come back to this community to create an organization here that also supports first generation low-income students that don’t have the resources to continue or move forward,” Bahena said.
His advice for anyone who feels like the odds are stacked against them? “When anyone is at the lowest point of their lives...always remember why they started,” he said.
If you’d like to help support Bahena financially on his journey to UCLA and beyond, CLICK HERE.
In the online form, under “Project Donation Allocation” choose “Other” and write “Omar Bahena Salgado” in the comment box.