A Young Son's Goal: Making Money For His Mother

Originally published on April 15, 2011 9:15 am

When he was growing up, Noe Rueda's family didn't have a lot of money. He wanted to help out, so he became a young entrepreneur. And in the process, Rueda found a way to go to college.

Thinking back to when he was little, Rueda says his mother often provided for herself and her four children by making less than $8,000 in a year.

"If she reached the $8,000, she would actually be happy that she made that much," Rueda recently told his former high school economics teacher, Alex Fernandez .

That was in Little Village, a largely Latino, low-income neighborhood on Chicago's West Side.

When Rueda was 8, around the time he was in the second grade, he started selling cleaning supplies that had been discarded from a nearby factory. He used the money he earned to buy more supplies, and a very small business was born.

"I would literally go outside my house, there was like a little bench, I'd put all my products there and sell them," he says. "I didn't make much. I made, what, 20 bucks a week? But for an 8-year-old, you're a millionaire with that kind of money."

"That's a lot of comic books and stuff," Fernandez says.

"I didn't go buy Pokemon cards," Rueda says with a laugh. "The little money I made, I gave it to my mom."

He recalls the first time he did that — when his mother was standing in the kitchen cooking.

"I came up to her and I told her, 'Mom, I know you don't have money, so here's 15 bucks I made.'

"She turned off the stove. She turned around, started crying and hugged me. From that point on, I just dedicated on getting money for my family."

Fernandez asks, "How did you make that money?"

"I actually started helping on a construction site," Rueda says. "This was in fifth grade. It was bad on my bones. I have bad shoulders, bad knees from all the stuff I was carrying."

Asked what he was thinking at the time — and whether he thought everyone was dealing with the same struggles his family was going through — Rueda recalls one day when he saw his situation through someone else's eyes.

"My shoes were all scraped up, so I got paint and I painted them white," he says. "Some kid fell and tripped in front of my shoes, and noticed. And he pointed it out and, uh, laughed. And that's when it hit me really hard — like, 'I'm actually poorer than I thought.'"

Currently, Rueda is studying marketing at Marian University — with help from a scholarship he won through Fernandez's class.

"How's your first semester of college been?" Fernandez asks.

"Things are great," Rueda says. "I just think about it, like, being the first one to go to college in my whole family, of over 50 of us. That's my biggest motivation."

"I'm really proud of you, that you went this far," Fernandez says. "And I just want to have you come back, in like 10 years, dressed really sharp. You know, in, like, a suit ..."

" ... nice shoes," Rueda adds with a laugh.

"Nice shoes, and finally have a pair that you haven't painted," Fernandez says.

"I've had so many students where everything's stacked against them," Fernandez says. "What happens is, they get almost there, and then they just quit. You know, I really want you to be the one that finished, to be the one that actually did it. And I want you to get everything you've ever wanted."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Time now for StoryCorps. And today a story about growing up poor in Chicago. Nineteen-year-old Noe Rueda is the oldest of four children, and his mother raised all of them on her own.

Mr. NOE RUEDA: My mother, she would actually make under 8,000 a year. And if she reached the 8,000, she would actually be happy that she made that much.

MONTAGNE: As a boy, Noe decided to help. He recently told his high school economics teacher, Alex Fernandez, that he helped his family make ends meet by selling discarded cleaning supplies from a nearby factory.

Mr. RUEDA: I was eight years old, I think second grade. I would literally go outside my house, there was like a little bench, put all my products there and sell them. I didn't make much. I made, what, 20 bucks a week? But for a eight-year-old, you're a millionaire with that kind of money.

Mr. ALEX FERNANDEZ (High School Teacher): That's a lot of comic books and stuff, yeah.

Mr. RUEDA: But the thing is, I wasn't like other kids. I didn't go buy Pokemon cards. The little money I made, I gave it to my mom.

The first time, I remember she was cooking, and I came up to her and I told her, Mom, I know you don't have money, so here's 15 bucks I made. She turned off the stove, she turned around and started crying and hugged me. From that point on, I just dedicated on getting money for my family.

Mr. FERNANDEZ: How did you make that money?

Mr. RUEDA: First of all, the one thing that comes to people's mind in the bad neighborhoods is drugs, but I did not sell drugs. Reason for that is, first of all, I know it's wrong, secondly I picture my mom, how disappointed she would be if she finds that out. So I actually started helping in a construction site. And this was in fifth grade. It was bad on my bones. Like I have bad shoulders, bad knees from all the stuff I was carrying.

Mr. FERNANDEZ: When you were younger, did you realize kind of like, hey, this isn't normal or this isn't what other people go through?

Mr. RUEDA: Well, I always knew I was poor, but I remember one time in particular my shoes were all scraped up, so I got paint and I painted them white. Some kid fell and tripped in front of my shoes and noticed and he pointed it out and laughed. And that's when it hit me really hard - like, I'm actually poorer than I thought.

Mr. FERNANDEZ: How's your first semester of college been?

Mr. RUEDA: Things are great. I just think about it, like, being the first one to go to college in my whole family, of over 50 of us. That's my biggest motivation.

Mr. FERNANDEZ: I'm really proud of you, that you went this far. And I just want to have you come back, in like 10 years, dressed really sharp. You know...

Mr. RUEDA: Nice shoes.

Mr. FERNANDEZ: ...nice shoes, finally have a pair of shoes that you haven't painted. You know, and I have so many students where everything's stacked against them. What happens is, they get almost there, and then they just quit. You know, I really want you to be the one that finished. To be the one that actually did it. And I want you to get everything you've ever wanted.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: Alex Fernandez with former student Noe Rueda in Madison, Wisconsin. He's studying marketing at Marian University with the help of a scholarship he won through Alex Fernandez's class. Their conversation will be archived at the Library of Congress. The StoryCorps podcast is at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.