By Jerry Davich
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The sibilings are now sharing their story publicly as part of the Indiana Wesleyan University’s “Shine Bright” campaign. The siblings shot a commercial for IWU discussing their degrees and their family’s commitment to each other, and to higher education.
In late 1983, on the day after Christmas, Cynthia Gil’s father left her family’s Portage, Ill., home to run an errand. He never returned.
“For two weeks, we thought he was dead,” said Gil, who was 9.
“We had no idea what happened to him,” added her big sister, Mary Gil-Guerrero, who was 11.
Their father eventually separated from their mother and moved to the Indiana Harbor section of East Chicago. Their mother struggled for several years as a single parent with two preteen daughters and two toddler sons, still in diapers, they said.
“It was tough for her, with four kids and no career or higher education,” Gil-Guerrero said.
It also was tough on the two sisters, who stuck together during the difficult times.
They remember walking to the corner store with their little brothers in tow, with just enough food stamps for a few necessities and some penny candy.
“We were on welfare, and we knew exactly what poverty felt like,” Gil said.
The sisters also recall coming home from school one day and finding all their belongings on the front lawn.
“Evicted again,” Gil recalled.
“That was our reality back then,” Gil-Guerrero added. “But my mother did whatever she could to keep a roof over our heads.”
They both vividly recall when their mother’s boyfriend at the time refused to drive the family to a roller skating rink for a night of fun. Their mother had to walk there with all four kids in tow.
“She was stuck,” Gil said. “And I told myself back then that I never wanted to be stuck like that.”