A Minnesota army national guardsman came to the United States as a child and earned his citizenship, but he honors his roots in a major way. He's currently working to put an end to challenges faced by families in his poverty-ridden hometown just outside of Puerta Vallarta.
With just a few hundred bucks at a time, the young people in Ixtapa Nayarit, Mexico have been able to get a freshly painted church, shoes, food, and school supplies. Now through a new non-profit, the Minnesotan wants to help a group of students get their basic medical needs met so they can access a real shot at a bright future.
"We crossed the border in the U.S. when I was 12, funny thing it happened on July 4, 1989," Ulises Ayala said. "I learned the language, graduated from high school, applied for residency, became a resident. After a few years of becoming a resident I joined the National Guard, two years later I became a U.S. citizen, and then a commissioned officer."
During captain Ayala's time in Kuwait, he noticed he had a little extra money in the bank. So he called his sister in Ixtapa Nayarit where non-profit help is scarce.
"We don't have those organizations," Ayala said. "If you get through elementary school, you're really lucky. If you get through middle school, you have the golden ticket."
The poverty-stricken town of just over 1,500 people is about 45 minutes north of Puerta Vallarta.
Eager to help young people there advance, Ayala started sending his extra funds to help -- $200 at a time.
"They don't have running water," Ayala said. "Toilets are not like the ones we have here, it's just a hole of cement, that's it."
With out of pocket support from his fellow guardsmen, Ayala has also sent hundreds of food baskets to hungry families and shoes to special needs children.
"It's a great cause," Command Sgt. Maj. Brian Newcomer said. "It's amazing a little goes a long way there.
Ayala was able to help out even more after pooling his money with family members in California and Mexico.
"So 200 from them, 200 from California, and my 200 were able to help 72 students in Mexico get a dental exam," Ayala said. "All the other projects have been funded out of pocket, just saving money here, not going out to eat, and making sacrifices."
The 10-year army national guardsman now hopes that with support he can make sure middle school students in Ixtapa Nayarit have a real chance.
"If we get one student to go through the whole system, and that person becomes a dentist, a doctor, a lawyer, something, anything, then all the headaches is nothing," he said.
Ayala said the money raised will allow middle school students to get dental and medical exams so they can advance to high school.
Here's more information, and how you can help: