Putting Three Kids Through College by Redeeming Cans and Bottles

ByABC News
March 30, 2006, 3:49 PM

March 30, 2006 — -- This story begins with a happy ending, the now-prosperous lives of three children born to Mexican immigrants.

Up From Nothing: Amazing Stories of Starting at the Bottom and Rising to the Top, this Friday at 10 p.m. on "20/20"

Rogelio Garcia Jr., 25, is an engineer at a major defense contractor, with a degree from MIT. He's a steady young man with a steady girlfriend.

"I am living the American dream. I love my job. I don't have to worry about making next month's rent," Rogelio told "20/20."

His sister, Adriana, 24, drives a sports car and is in management training for a big rental car chain. Their baby brother, Angel, the only one not living at home, is now at San Jose State.

They're typical American kids with big futures. But there's one big difference: how they got there.

Yolanda and Rogelio Garcia Sr. live nothing like their children, and that is exactly how they'd dreamed it.

For 21 years, the Garcias have supported their family by picking through garbage, often cutting their fingers on broken glass while searching for cans and bottles.

Late at night they make their living on the darkened streets and back alleys of Los Angeles, recycling other people's trash for cash.

They've collected more than 8 million cans and bottles to help put two children through college. Their youngest is still hitting the books, so Yolanda and Rogelio still hit the streets every night.

"In my country, I was secretary and here I come, and go to the containers or the trash. And I say, "Oh, my God, I do this?' But I need money," Yolanda Garcia said.

More than 30 years ago Yolanda and her husband illegally crossed the border from Mexico looking for a better life.

They're citizens now and have held jobs in factories and in kitchens. They have never collected a dime of welfare or a handout when work was slow because there was always the trash.

For years, their routine would begin after midnight when they'd begin collecting cans, work they'd continue until about 3 p.m. the following day.