A courageous journey forward

September 6, 2022 Chelsey Sleator
Having the determination to keep going and overcoming obstacles while pursuing her American dream

“It’s been quite the journey and I can’t believe that I’m here.”

As she arrived at the Westlake campus to begin her 5:30 a.m. shift, Gio Budenz paused to look at the illuminated Charles Schwab sign, and felt a sudden burst of pride. “I got a little choked up,” she said.

Gio was reflecting on the long personal journey that’s led her to this moment. It’s a journey that started in Bolivia, where Gio and her family faced many challenges.

As a single parent, Gio’s mother made as many sacrifices as she could for her family. But Gio had to help by taking care of her sister and working various jobs in addition to being a full-time student.

“As beautiful as my country is, it was not a good place for us to live,” said Gio, who explained that rampant inflation was one of the reasons that made it difficult to stay in Bolivia.

“We wanted to pursue the American dream.”

In June of 2001, Gio and her family immigrated from Bolivia to the small Texas town of Keene to pursue a better life. But transitioning into this new life also proved challenging.

The only work Gio’s mother could find was as a meat cutter in a supermarket making $6 an hour. Gio found work at the same supermarket, but her main challenges were at school.

“None of us spoke English,” explained Gio. “And one of my teachers screamed at me because she didn’t speak Spanish; she was clearly upset that I was in her class. At that point, I didn’t want to go back to school. I ate my lunch in the bathroom and wished I could go back to Bolivia.”

Gio's mother, who was determined to help her children build a better life, held a meeting with the school principal to address the situation. Gio was grateful for the support from her mother and points to this moment as an instance where she learned a valuable lesson about the importance of advocating for yourself and others.

A year later, Gio and her family moved to Fort Worth so Gio could attend an international newcomer’s school. While the school was better, Gio found herself in a bad relationship with a partner who wouldn’t allow her to continue her education. This was a low point for Gio, who said she felt like her voice had been silenced.

“I just knew I had the courage to find something more.”

Inspired by her mother, mentors, and lessons learned, Gio charged forward. She started studying for her bachelor’s degree, found entry-level work at a financial institution, met her husband Josh, and had a baby boy they named Mason. And when a manager position became available at work, Gio knew she would be great at it. She applied but was promptly told that she “didn’t have what it takes.”

“When you doubt my ability to do something, it motivates me even more,” said Gio, who decided she needed to take another leap—this time with her career.

That’s when she ran across an opportunity at Schwab. Gio made an immediate connection with her recruiter and was thrilled when she was offered a position in Client Service and Support (CS&S) in May of 2017.

“When I was interviewing, I thought, ‘this company sounds too good to be true.’ However, it turned out to be a greater place to be than I could have ever imagined.”

During her time at Schwab, Gio has obtained several securities licenses, finished her bachelor’s degree, added a master’s degree in business administration, and welcomed another son named Lucas. And in December of 2021, she finally proved her previous employer wrong when she accepted a leadership position in Client Banking Services, where she’s been able to apply the lessons she’s learned about the importance of advocacy to her team.

Gio’s message to others that may be struggling to achieve their goals, or who may have big obstacles to overcome, is to never give up and to stop trying to get validation from others.

“What you want to do with your life is what is most important,” she explains. “Do it for yourself. Be okay with who you are and continue down your path even if it takes a long time.”

Whiles she’s come a long way, there’s still more ahead in Gio’s journey, including welcoming a daughter, Gabriela, this November (2022).