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Atrisco Heritage Grad Learned Early that Adversity Can be a Great Motivator

Posted May 12, 2023, 2:35 PM. Updated August 23, 2023, 2:16 PM.

Asianna Benalli earned a full ride to a Louisiana college, where she will play softball.

Asianna Benalli still remembers her life in the South Valley before everything fell apart.

She and her two younger brothers lived with their mom in a two-story house, and her mom worked at a casino. But when Benalli was around 10, her mom started missing work because of a difficult pregnancy and lost her job. The problems snowballed when their car broke down and was repossessed. Then they lost their house.

The growing family ended up bouncing from rental to rental. These days, Benalli, her four siblings, and her mother live in a two-bedroom apartment off of Tramway with her grandmother and uncle.

But the Atrisco Heritage Academy High School senior and softball standout refused to allow those circumstances to get in the way of her goals. Benalli is graduating on Wednesday with a 3.8 grade point average and a bilingual seal and will be heading to Bossier Parish Community College in the fall on a full-ride scholarship. She will be playing softball at the Louisiana school and hopes to end up on a Division 1 team.

“I use my struggles as a motivation. So it made me really dig deep,” Benalli said. “And it made me really want to work 10 times harder, because I want to get my family out of that situation.”

She’s still figuring out what career she wants to pursue.

Close quarters

Benalli shares a room with her grandma, while one of her brothers shares a room with her uncle. Her mother and three youngest siblings sleep in the living room. She said mornings can be difficult with eight people trying to get ready and just one bathroom. They somehow make it work.

“My mom works so hard and just seeing her sleeping on the living room couch, or like the floor, it's not easy to wake up to that and it's not easy to see my siblings not being able to have their own room,” she said, adding that they don’t understand why they don’t have their own closet or why they don’t have their own rooms to decorate.

Benalli said she also had a hard time adapting to being around teammates who lived in big houses, had their own rooms, and were surrounded by nice things all the while seeing her mom struggling to come up with the money to get her to club tournaments.

She credits her faith in God with getting her through the hard times and notes that the struggles have brought her and her family closer and made them stronger.

Benalli said her mom works hard and has made countless sacrifices to ensure that she could focus on school and play softball, both at Atrisco Heritage and on a club team. Her mom works for an auto parts store making deliveries, and her grandmother works for the base during the day and cleans office buildings at night. The grandmother suffered a brain aneurism a year ago but is doing better now, Benalli said.

McKinney-Vento Program

Beyond her family, Benalli said she is grateful for Albuquerque Public Schools’ McKinney-Vento Program, which works with students facing housing insecurity. The program connects those students and their families with community programs and resources to stabilize their situations.

McKinney-Vento staffers work to remove any barriers standing in the way of their students’ education.

Benalli said at one point, when she was going through a really tough time, she talked to a school counselor and was referred to the McKinney-Vento Program. That’s when Sharon Torres, an outreach worker and former classroom teacher, came into her life. Benalli said she initially resisted, feeling that others were worse off than her family and that her mom would figure it out.

But Torres was persistent.

“She ended up helping us with a lot of things,” Benalli said, noting that anytime she needs something, Torres figures out a way to get it for her. She has helped cover school fees, provided clothing, toiletries and even a bat and a glove, paid for Benalli’s yearbook, helped cover the cost of a hotel room when Benalli was doing a college visit in Pennsylvania and even helped get her a passport so that Benalli could play softball in Canada with a Native American team.

“She did impact my life in such a positive way,” said Benalli, who is Navajo. “She was so open to doing it and so welcoming and she helped us a lot. I love her. I love what they did.”

She said leaving her family to go to college in Louisiana will be hard, but she said she’s doing it for them.

“I have a plan for myself, and if I stick to that, I know I can help them,” she said. “They trust me, and I've already proven to them, the impossible is possible.”

Asked if she has any advice for other students facing challenges, Benalli said they should use it as motivation.

“Everyone goes through hard times, but it’s on you to see how you control it – your reaction,” she said. “We can't control what we went through, but we control how we react to it. And overcome.”