"It is sort of challenging, but I think I am ready," said Abendano, the oldest of four siblings. "There is help. I can rely on counselors and the Internet too."
Abendano has been meeting weekly with high school guidance counselor Amanda Ramirez and UC Merced UC Scholars Early Academic Outreach Program  counselor Johnny Mora to keep him on track to attend a four-year university and then dentistry school.
Neither of his parents graduated from high school, let alone attended college, so Abendano was happy to learn about UC Merced's Center for Educational Partnerships Parent Empowerment Program  (PEP). The program's goal is to help parents clearly understand how to navigate through issues related to higher education. The 2-hour workshops include topics like admission requirements, financial literacy and financial aid concepts, and the difference between educational systems here and in their native countries.
"I realized if my parents were more informed, it would help both them and me when it comes to applying to colleges," Abendano said.
After attending the 8-week program, Abendano's father said he is feeling more at ease about his son applying for college in three years.
"We were introduced to lots of new information, how to apply for scholarships, how to help him with his homework and support him through the process," said the senior Abendano who works for a farming company in Madera. "I feel relaxed now because I know if he works hard and keeps up his grades and does community service, that it is possible for him to go to college."
PEP is one part of the university's ongoing commitment to increasing the college-going culture in the Central Valley region.
"Our students and families sometimes need a hand to hold as they navigate unfamiliar educational systems," said Madera Unified School District Superintendent Gustavo Balderas. "The Parent Empowerment Program is an incredible resource for families in Madera Unified. It makes a significant difference in the lives of our children."
A recent $30,000 gift from financial corporation Citi will ensure that more parents will feel the same sense of relief as Abendano's parents.
“A college degree opens doors to new opportunities and provides students with the skills they need to reach their full potential,” said Brian Hepburn, managing director and division manager for Citibank’s Growth Markets Division. “Citi is proud to work with community partners like UC Merced to enable students to realize their dreams for college — and beyond.”
Since its inception in 2004, more than 6,200 parents have benefited from the program, which includes day and overnight campus visits for parents of freshman and transfer students from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds. Many participants have attended a second time.
"Before we attended the workshops, we thought college was going to be hard to get into because of fees," said Francisco's mother, Adela Abendano. "But we learned that there is a lot of help for students."
Francisco's father said he hopes programs like this continue to be available for parents who need guidance like they did.
"We want to thank the bank and UC Merced for helping people like us and letting parents know that college is a possibility for every student," he said.