Rony Baltazar’s parents left their home countries 25 years ago in search of a better life. They arrived here in Delaware, met and had him about a year later. Both of his parents came here with less than a high school education and worked blue-collar jobs. His mother grew up in Mexico, his father in Guatemala.
“As an only child for 11 years, my parents were very strict with me as they wanted the best for me,” Rony wrote on his Facebook page recently. “My father made me participate in soccer, band and martial arts at an early age to keep me busy because he thought being involved would keep me away from the streets.” He said his mother insisted he speak their native language and hired a tutor to teach him how to converse, write and speak the Spanish language.
Rony excelled in his classes at Milford High School, but he knew his family could not afford expensive out-of-state schools. He said he did not have anyone to guide him with college applications or explain financial aid, so he elected to attend the University of Delaware Associate in Arts program at Del-Tech. After two years, he began attending classes at the main campus of the University.
“I didn’t have a normal college experience,” Rony said. “I worked, volunteered and interned all while commuting an hour to go to school every day because I did not want to place another financial burden on my family.” When Rony was 11, his brother Steven was born and when Rony was 13, his brother Omar arrived. His brothers look at him as a role model and he tried to attend as many of their soccer practices, as well as their games and band concerts as he could. Working and attending school while living at home was difficult, but he recently graduated debt-free with the belief that all his sacrifices were worth it.
After graduation, Rony joined the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Delaware as a Hispanic Programs Coordinator for the state. He educated, supported and advocated for people who live with a severe mental illness and, in his role, helped expand what NAMI Delaware offers to those who cannot speak the English language and who are, most often, immigrants. A former colleague told him about a position in Senator Tom Carper’s office and convinced him to interview. As policy and legislation were part of the field he studied as a student at the University of Delaware, Baltazar decided to leave NAMI and apply for the position in the Senator’s office.
“Thousands of people come to Washington in hopes of getting their foot in the door,” Rony said. “Only a limited people get in so this was a chance I could not miss.” He was successful, landing an internship with the Senator.
As part of his job duties, Rony went to Congressional briefings and wrote memos to the appropriate member of the office. He concentrated on health policy that dealt with children and families. He also handled Capitol Tours for Delaware constituents while supporting the staff with administrative duties. While interning with the Senator, he met Senator Bernie Sanders, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Juan Kaine, the President of Honduras, Senator Marco Rubio, Senator Tim Kaine and Ricky Russell as well as the Governor of Puerto Rico.
Rony says he entered the political field because he grew up translating for people who could not speak English and he realized he enjoyed helping people. In high school and college, he excelled in government and history classes.
“But my narrow mindset always told me that I would never get a job within this field that wasn’t anything other than an educator,” Rony said. “I began taking pre-med courses in my sophomore year, hoping that my path to helping people would be medical school. After some rough bumps in the road, I knew that medicine was not for me. So, I decided to take the risk and declare myself a political science major.” He did an internship at Legislative Hall for former Governor Jack Markell as a Constituent Relations Intern. It was not long before his passion for government and policy began connecting to his passion for helping people.
On Monday, August 7, Rony realized his dream when he started a new position with the United States Senate. He says he has learned throughout his life that people view the world through different perspectives and that only through understanding and comprehension can you actually help people.
“Not everyone will understand and everyone will have different explanations as to why life events occur, but if you listen and find ways to accommodate their beliefs as well as yours, society can achieve greater peace.” Rony said that the biggest challenge for him is that, although he can listen, he cannot always help them beyond passing along their concerns. As a Staff Assistant in the US Senate, Rony will be focused on answering phone calls and emails. He will then pass them along to the Senator. He will help Legislative staff with drafting mail to constituents, attending briefings and writing memos while also coordinating White House tours for Delaware constituents.
Rony says he does hope to seek political office someday. He says he understands there are barriers he will face and he knows there will be criticism. He also understands that his life will no longer be private, but if helping others in an expanded way means being involved in politics, he is willing to deal with those negatives.
Rony said that he used a SEED scholarship to attend college so his tuition was covered for the first two years. He only needed tuition for a year and a half, however, due to the AP credits he earned in high school. He worked part-time during semesters and full-time in between semesters. He commuted because he could not afford room and board, even though the commute was an hour one way. With some help from his parents, he was able to pay for his final two years of college without loans.
“My advice for students today who want to go to college is to look for scholarships during high school and to complete the FAFSA,” Rony said. “Regardless of income or financial situation, students who choose to go to the University of Delaware who reside in Delaware get a grant to attend. Work while you are in school. Take advantage of the SEED program. Find books and materials online. One lesson I learned is that you don’t want to spend hundreds on books that you may not need. I rented books or bought them through Amazon, CHEGG or bookrental.”
Rony also had advice for college students. He said that students should always go to class because they can miss important topics that end up on exams. Students need to study and always be prepared. Failing a class means spending extra money. Internships can also boost a resume, helping students find a better job after graduation. “Find what you love to study,” Rony said. “It takes time to decide what you really like but be willing to experiment. You will be surprised what you like or what you don’t.”
Rony says he is not the most experienced or most intelligent, but his passion for helping others has gotten him far. His parents not only did not graduate from college, they never finished high school, so being the first one to shatter that glass ceiling was difficult. He had no guidance, but he managed on his own and he succeeded. “I am the product of all the efforts, trusts and investments of my educators, employers, family and friends,” Rony said. “Most importantly, I am the product of the vast efforts and sacrifices that my parents have made. They can now proudly say that their oldest son works for a United States Senator in Washington, DC.”
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