When she was a teenager, Rosaura Romero watched her mother juggle classes and a full-time job while raising her alone.

“She could have very easily told me to go find a job,” said Ms. Romero, 21. “She always said, ‘Don’t stress yourself with work. This is your time to just learn.’”

So Ms. Romero did just that.

Now Ms. Romero is a senior at the University at Buffalo, majoring in psychology and health and human services. She does not have a clear-cut post-graduation plan, but she knows she wants to give back, “putting good out into the world,” she said in an interview last month at her family’s apartment in Harlem.

Her vision for the future was inspired in large part by the example that her mother set and by the guidance of a local nonprofit organization.

Ms. Romero’s parents separated when she was 3. She lived with her mother, who made sure she stayed in touch with her father no matter what. When she was about 9, though, her father, who was not in the United States legally, was arrested over his immigration status.

For several years, Ms. Romero would visit him in facilities where he was detained in and around New York. Her mother wanted to make sure she knew he was still a part of her life.

“My mom really takes everything as an opportunity,” Ms. Romero said. “She sat down and taught me how to write in Spanish by writing letters to my dad.”

Her father was eventually deported to El Salvador. They still try to stay connected through WhatsApp.

After Ms. Romero’s father was taken into custody and unable to work, financial concerns grew. To counteract that, Ms. Romero’s mother pursued an associate degree in pattern-making at the Fashion Institute of Technology while also working full-time. Ms. Romero followed her mother’s advice to focus on her studies and extracurricular activities.

The summer before high school, she joined a theater program run by Brotherhood/Sister Sol, a youth organization based in Harlem. She also participated in its environmental and international studies programs, which included traveling to the Caribbean and South America.

Those experiences helped her gain a sense of independence and motivated her to keep up with extracurricular activities in college, she said.

When it was time to enroll, Bro/Sis helped Ms. Romero prepare for her SATs. “I owe a lot to them,” she said.

When she was a freshman at the University at Buffalo, her mother welcomed a baby girl with her new partner. With an extra mouth to feed in the family, Ms. Romero did not want her mother to shoulder tuition and living expenses.

“I would try not to feel like I was a burden to her,” she said.

Nearly every semester, Ms. Romero said, she has received financial aid, and she has taken out loans to manage her costs. During her sophomore and junior years, she worked as a resident assistant, which provided her with free housing and a discounted meal plan.

Now she lives in a two-story house off-campus and has a part-time job at a day care center to make her $350 monthly rent.

“I’m really trying to just learn how to be good with money and just live with what I’m making,” Ms. Romero said.

Last summer, Bro/Sis nominated Ms. Romero for a $2,000 scholarship from F.P.W.A., one of the eight organizations supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund. Ms. Romero received the award: $1,000 in Neediest funds last fall, which she put toward her tuition costs; the second half will go toward her rent this spring.

When she graduates, Ms. Romero will be about $25,000 in debt. She said she feels lucky for studying at a state institution; she might have owed thousands more had she enrolled at a private college. And while her mother wanted her to go to community college, Ms. Romero said she felt that going to a larger university would help her grow, especially given how shy she was as a girl.

Despite her demanding schedule, she has always carved out time for other activities. She is a member of Sigma Lambda Upsilon, a Latina-based sorority, and the Black Student Union. And she has interned at the Belize Cancer Society, part of a study abroad program, as well as the Partnership for After School Education and a youth homeless shelter called Compass House.

This spring, she is going to be a peer coach for struggling second-semester freshmen. After graduating, she plans to work for a year instead of diving into a master’s program.

“If I’m going to be in debt,” she said, “I might as well be in debt for something that I’m pretty sure I’m going to want to do.”

Down the line, she hopes to become a freelance clinical psychologist for nonprofit organizations. She has already told Bro/Sis, she said, “Once I’m a certified psychologist, you can call me if you really need someone.”

“I’ll be there,” she added. “Pro bono.”

Donations to the Neediest Cases may be made online, or with a check or over the phone.

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