Written by Aaron Carling

To some, waking up early in the morning can be exhausting, but, to Stephanie Zuniga, waking up at 6:30 a.m. was never a problem.

As a 22-year-old studying political science, Zuniga’s schedule is packed from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. with classes and meetings as a student activities coordinator. That leaves Zuniga four hours to eat and do homework before working out at 10:30 p.m., but it has never been a problem.

When Zuniga was 9 years old, she remembered how her mother helped those around her. They lived in a two-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles with seven people: her parents, her siblings and a man named James, who was trying to get back on his feet.

Courtesy of Stephanie Zuniga

She remembered one day heading home from the laundromat a couple of blocks away from her house and running into a man in his mid-to-late thirties who wheeled his 3-year-old daughter in a shopping cart on a cold day. He had shoulder-length hair, mangled together and matted. He smelled like he hadn’t showered in days and only had a thin jacket and a coarse blanket to warm his daughter as they walked around.

His daughter’s teeth were chattering together ever-so-slightly to cope with the winds. She remembered hearing his story. He was a married man in a toxic relationship, in which he thought it would be better to be homeless than to live with his abusive wife. Her mother gladly let him into their home and made sure he and his daughter were taken care of. She remembered taking the man’s daughter to the bathtub, and seeing bruises all over her body as she pulled off her small sweater. She could never forget the toothy smile the little girl had as she took her first bath in a long time. Stephanie knew that there were still people less fortunate than her and, more importantly, that she could do something about it.

Waking up at 6:30 a.m. and going to bed at 1:00 a.m. to pursue a degree was never a problem for her. It was no problem to donate plasma and send $50 every two weeks to her cousins in Mexico, either. She knows that there are people less fortunate than her and that she has something to give.