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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Upper Columbia Academy: After his family fled Cuba, Sammy Lores seeks to help others

Samuel Lores, Upper Columbia Academy High School
By Cindy Hval For The Spokesman-Review

From the restrictions and deprivations of Cuba to the freedom and abundance of the United States, Sammy Lores has traveled far.

He and his family fled Cuba in January 2022.

“I came here because life in a communist country is so bad,” he said. “No food in the market, and when you find it, it’s so expensive. Clothes have to be purchased on the black market.”

His father is a Seventh-day Adventist pastor, and the family felt the strong arm of the government around their worship.

“If my dad wanted to do a week of prayer, the government wouldn’t allow it,” he said.

School proved equally restrictive.

“If you’re not a communist, you get kicked out of school,” Lores said. “I didn’t want to think like them, so I kept my mouth shut.”

Their four-month journey to the U.S. took them to Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico, where they were jailed because they’d entered the country illegally.

“That was a very hard time,” he said. “We’d sold everything we had to get here.”

With the help of a family friend in Coeur d’Alene, they were released and settled there. His father started a Hispanic church in the city.

“It’s grown to 25 people in less than a year,” Lores said.

But life in the States took some getting used to.

“Everything was so different,” he said. “Costco! Walmart! Ross! So overwhelming!”

So was finding a school. Though Lores had graduated from high school in Cuba, the government wouldn’t release his school records, so he needed to redo his senior year. He knew exactly where he wanted to go – Upper Columbia Academy.

“I’d always dreamed of attending an Adventist school, but there are none in Cuba.”

Initially, no spots were open at the school, and Lores was put on a wait list.

“Two weeks before school started, I got a phone call at 7:20 a.m.,” he said. “They said I could come. I’m not going to lie – this has been the best year of my life.”

Teacher Judy Castrejón said Lores fit right into the school.

“He radiates love and happiness,” she said. “Sammy is such a humble young man. If he sees anyone sitting by themselves at a table, he joins them. This is the new kid reaching out.”

Lores said UCA was everything he’d hoped for.

“I like the environment. Everybody helps each other, and I needed help to improve my English,” he said. “The teachers are so patient with me.”

He didn’t need assistance on the soccer field – he grew up playing the sport. The school’s team went to state this year and won the Fall Classic in Walla Walla.

Lores enjoys math and science. He plans to pursue a career in nursing and will attend Walla Walla University in the fall.

“Sammy is very motivated,” Castrejón said.

She recalled how he described his family’s arduous journey and time spent in jail.

“He said it was the best thing that could have happened to him because he spent time thinking about what he was leaving and what he was going to.”

Castrejón has no doubt Lores will be an asset to the medical community.

“He’s very caring. I’m sure the Lord will use him in the ministry of nursing,” she said.

Lores is excited about what comes next. He expressed gratitude for Ben Rodriguez, the family friend who helped them relocate, and for Mandy Weber from the Foundation One program that helped with financial aid.

As he looks to college, he said working in a hospital setting is his great dream.

“Since I was a boy, Mom and Dad taught me to help people,” Lores said. “I feel so glad I’ll be able to help others. It makes me happy to make others happy.”