Framing the Future:
Habi-kid Answers the Call to Serve
By the age of seven, Alejandro Castañeda had already lived in three countries. To him, moving around was the norm, but his mother Agnieska knew that she wanted to give him a more stable life. She wanted to provide the strong foundation of a safe and stable home, but she quickly learned that finding affordable housing in Naples was an incredible challenge.
After years of apartment life and high rent, it was Alex who convinced his mother to apply for a Habitat home. Habitat Collier’s then-Executive Director of Construction and current President, Nick Kouloheras, spoke about Habitat in front of Alex’s construction class at Lely High School. As soon as he got home from school that day, Alex shared what he learned with his mom and gave her the push she needed to apply.
“It was amazing when she found out that we were approved and we were going to get the house,” he says. “I truly think it was just God’s timing”
Ever the hard worker, Agnieska instilled in her son a serious work ethic. He joined just about every extracurricular he could at Lely High School including being freshman and sophomore class president and Spanish Honor Society President, teen court, 3 years of marching band, tennis, swimming, wrestling, track, National Honor Society, Chess Club, as well as volunteering with his church and working part time at Olive Garden. He says Habitat was a big part of making that possible.
“That foundation completely changed our lives and allowed me to do more at school and my mom was able to provide for me in a lot of different ways,” he says. “The biggest thing was the emotional and psychological support that not only the house itself provided, but from the people surrounding us at Habitat. A lot more defines Habitat than just building affordable houses.”
In his Sophomore year, Alex learned about the United States Military Academy at West Point from his school counselor. He talked to the local recruiter and began to build his high school resume with West Point in mind. He became close with Lely’s ROTC Chief, who helped mentor him and work on his application to West Point.
Knowing the competition was tough, Alex also applied to other schools and even earned a full scholarship to Stetson University—not the worst backup plan, but his heart was still set on West Point. On the last day of the acceptance window, Alex found out that he had been accepted to his dream school.
After telling his mother, she wasted no time in stopping by the Habitat Office to let everyone know how proud she was of her son. Alex says that getting into school with a full scholarship—and removing the weight of college tuition from his mother’s shoulders—is his biggest accomplishment.
“She always told me, ‘we don’t have money to send you to college, but you’re going to go to college!’”
As part of his enrollment at West Point, Alex will spend five years enlisted after he graduates. He says if he chooses to continue his military career beyond that, he’d like to become a Foreign Area Officer. If his path takes him away from the military, he’s interested in aviation or working with the FBI or CIA. With four years at West Point and five more in the military, he’s got time to figure it out. “The next nine years are planned,” he says. “So we’ll see!”
With the solid foundation of home and the determination of his mother, Alex is breaking the cycle through education. With your help, more kids like him can know the advantages that come with the stability of home.