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No one can say Ana Hernandez's children do not aim high.

Omar, 10, said he wants to be a professional basketball player. OK, he says, if this doesn't work, he will settle on being a lawyer.

Carlos Juan, 15, said he intends to play professional football. Second choice: a doctor.

These are lofty aspirations for the children of a woman who could not afford the plane fare to attend her husband's funeral in Puerto Rico. But Mrs. Hernandez wants to make sure her sons realize they have more of a chance to have a better life than she has.

She paused when asked what hopes she has for her two sons.

"I hope they are good citizens and for them to have a career of their own and make a decent living," she said.

Mrs. Hernandez has worked for five years as a teacher's aide in Buffalo public schools. She makes somewhere around $14,000 a year before taxes, she said. The family also gets about $200 a month because her husband was disabled.

That's her income. There is no public assistance. No Medicaid. No food stamps. They have no car.

She also pays $191 a month partial tuition so Carlos Juan can attend Canisius High School, where he plays nose tackle on the junior varsity football team. This monthly sum, which seems a lot for someone with her salary, probably is the best measurement of what education means to her.

"At this moment, that is not too much money," said Mrs. Hernandez, 40, who lives with her two sons on Goodyear Avenue. "His education is really important to me."

"Out there, it's bad," she said. "Children graduating from eighth grade with no aspirations, no dreams of anything better. If they make it, they make it. If they don't, they don't. They prefer to run around in the streets instead of taking a chance of doing something better. So paying this money, I think it's a good investment."

Mrs. Hernandez was born in Puerto Rico, lived in Niagara Falls, then returned to Puerto Rico when she was 9 years old. Her mother arranged for her to return to Buffalo in 1980 because she believed the United States offered a better chance for Mrs. Hernandez's two sons.

Three years ago, her husband's alcohol problem became too much for Mrs. Hernandez to bear. A doctor said he would have to leave the house or face a court proceeding. He returned to Puerto Rico.

In September, he was diagnosed with cancer. He died in November. Her friends at school called several local charities in hopes of raising the money for the family's air fare to his funeral in Puerto Rico. The appeal fell short, and the three stayed in Buffalo.

"That's a difficult question," she said when asked what her thoughts were during the funeral. "I really hoped things had been different, that he wouldn't have been alone. If he had not been drinking, it might not have even happened."

Paul Williams, principal at School 18, called Mrs. Hernandez "an inspiration, a model for the rest of our students."

"She believes in the American educational process," Williams said. "She believes in working within the system. She has faith in a lot of things we hope people will have faith in."

Mrs. Hernandez puts in a tremendous number of volunteer hours, Williams said. Even in the face of her misfortune, Mrs. Hernandez remains upbeat, concentrating on the positive things in her life, according to Williams.

Omar is "nothing short of an ideal kid, a terrific kid," he said.

Christmas decorations brighten the Hernandezes' downstairs apartment, where they have lived since they moved to Buffalo.

"With only one income, it's tough," Mrs. Hernandez said. "But we manage. With one paycheck, I pay rent and whatever bills I can. The other paycheck I use for groceries.

"I'll borrow from the neighbors or borrow from my friends at school until I can get the next paycheck.

"When one of them needs something, I'll stop whatever payment until next month. Then I'll pay the bill."

There are simple lessons she wants her sons to learn. If her life stands for anything, it's to try get these across to her two boys.

"It's very tough out there," she said. "If you're not prepared, you will not be able to make it and do something good with your life."

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