Seva Stories: JoVonna Rosetta
American Indian College Fund Student of the Year

JoVonna Rosetta grew up on the Santo Domingo Pueblo near Santa Fe, New Mexico. After losing her glasses halfway through high school, she was unable to cover the cost of a new pair. Without glasses, JoVonna's grades suffered. "I was sitting in the front row and still couldn't see the board," she laughs, recalling her teacher's solution to sit next to a classmate who takes good notes.

Unfortunately, this story is not uncommon for many Native Americans living on pueblos and reservations, where a lack of resources and access to services often leave basic needs like eye care unmet. To address these issues, Seva partners with organizations like Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI) to train the next generation of Native vision care professionals who are dedicated to caring for their communities.

"Being in high school, I don't think I ever even imagined leaving the pueblo," says JoVonna. "I didn't see myself going anywhere, I didn't see myself helping my people. And that's really what I wanted to do – help my community."

An opportunity presented itself when JoVonna went to get an eye exam and talked to one of the opticians, a graduate of SIPI, about his work. "He told me about the Vision Care Technology program at SIPI. It kind of clicked and I thought, 'this is another way I can help my people.'"

With the blessing of her family and the guidance of a friend who had previously attended SIPI, JoVonna drove to Albuquerque to deliver her application in person. Two nerve-wracking months later, JoVonna received her letter of acceptance, packed her bags, and moved to start classes at SIPI.

"The first few days I was really nervous. I remember thinking, I don't know if I can do this. I don't know if I'll succeed." But soon after beginning the program, JoVonna surprised herself by quickly becoming a star student. "I saw this as my chance to help my family, to help my people, to help my community. And I didn't want to waste that chance. That's what pushed me to work as hard as I did."

JoVonna cites the support of her family, her pueblo, and her instructors at SIPI as indispensable. "I was intimidated by Mrs. Red Shirt at first," she says of her instructor at SIPI. "In the end, she turned out to be one of my biggest supporters. She pushed me to really succeed."

JoVonna went on to be honored by the American Indian College Fund with the 2015 Student of the Year Award. Her tribe paid for her travel to represent SIPI in a competition at the Opticon Conference in Tennessee. "I don't even think I would have made it to Tennessee without my tribe. It's just really assuring that your people care about you, too." Wanting to represent her people, JoVonna proudly wore her traditional regalia while competing.

JoVonna graduated from SIPI in May and is currently pursuing her goal of becoming an optometrist by continuing her education at University of Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas. Meanwhile, she supports herself with a job at a local VisionWorks. Her employment was made possible when she successfully passed the American Board of Opticianry exam, a national certification that allows her to work as an optician. Her exam fees were covered by Seva. "If it wasn't for Seva, I'd still be looking for a way to pay for the exam."

JoVonna Rosetta's story is an inspiring example of what can be accomplished with determination and hard work. "The advice I would have for anyone else would be not to let anything hold you back. If there's an opportunity, just take it, because you might not get it back. And to push yourself as hard as you can to succeed at that opportunity."

Learn more about Seva's American Indian Sight Initiative by visiting www.seva.org/AISI.

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