“If I can conquer foster care and homelessness, I know others can too.”

Kristine taking graduation photos after completing her Master’s in Social Work!

During my higher education journey, I have experienced many financial hardships, including not having a strong support system in my life. I lost my father to a brain attack stroke. After my father passed away, things went downhill for my family and I and we became homeless for 2 years. At the age of twelve I was removed from my biological mother and placed into the foster care system. I grew up not knowing who majority of my biological family was, so my support system has been weak, especially financial support systems. Much of what I have accomplished has been due to the support of Seattle Education Access and other academic programs such as the Accelerator YMCA. I do not know where I would be if it wasn’t for my education advocate, Jeff.

My Education Advocate helped to eliminate many financial barriers that I faced while achieving higher learning. My EA helped me with many different things such as paying for college applications, or registration holds that prevented me from registering for classes. My EA helped pay for my graduation cap/gown/tassel, and he also connected me to scholarships that Seattle Education Access provided. My Education Advocate also helped me gain many leadership skills which benefited me. For example, he hired me to work on the Student Advisory Board, which I participated in for 2 years. Also, he offered many opportunities to earn stipends by assisting in interview sessions with new Education Advocate/Board Member applicants. My Education Advocate has always motivated me to achieve and reach my highest potential. I would not have accelerated this far in my educational goals if I did not have my Education Advocate.

Having a master’s degree in Social Work is a big accomplishment for me. I am a first-generation college student. Many of my family members did not attend college. Having a master’s degree helps me feel more stable in my life, and it also reminds me that I can do anything I put my mind too. Having a master’s degree and accomplishing my educational goals has provided many opportunities for me and has strengthened my support system tremendously! If I can conquer foster care, homelessness, discrimination, and poverty; I know other individuals are capable as well.

 

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“I thought my problems were too much for any program.”

Kentrice at her graduation. She received an A.A. in Business from Seattle Central College.

My name is Kentrice and I came from Arkansas for high school. I did not want to come here. I was afraid of change. I thought I had all my friends I needed back home, even family. I had big eyes on the city once me and my family arrived in Seattle. The city is HUGE! A small country gal could not fathom the thought of having a successful life here. Where do I start?

Things don’t always work out in life how we expect. My parents couldn’t work out their differences and I was stuck in the middle. Do I go back home, where there are no opportunities or do I stay here and make my life better? It wasn’t an easy choice leaving my mother back home, but I know there’s a purpose for me here to make something of myself. Look at me, making life decisions that will change my life forever. Well, at least I thought it was the right decision. 

Later that year, my father lost his home and could no longer afford to take care of me. Once again, I had to stop my teenage life to make another huge decision. Either I can go to foster care, or go home. I went back to Arkansas for my junior year of high school and immediately discovered there was no home for me anywhere. My heart was broken. I am tired. What do you do when life throws a curveball? You’re supposed to keep your eye on the ball, but how? 

I was homeless with my mother until I was 17, sleeping from pillow to post, trying to make it to school on time. I didn’t make it to school several times and people took notice. Once again, I’m in this cycle of survival and foster care. Child Protective Services bought me a one way ticket back to Seattle live with my dad. 

I was really upset once I got back to WA to only find out that my father was not responsible enough to take care of me. During this time, I felt that homelessness was a trend in my life. I could not settle down and focus on school because I did not know where I would sleep that night, let alone eat a meal. My senior year at Rainier Beach High School is when my life was filled with purpose and hope for my future. I met Jeff Corey from SEA through my school’s program. 

I was relieved that there is hope for underprivileged students. I first met with Jeff in spring 2012. I was scared that if I told him I really needed help and support, that he couldn’t really help. I was afraid to tell my truth because I felt like my problems were too much and no program would stand by my side. I have the most amazing mentor in Jeff that any youth could ask for. Jeff opened his arms to me, Kentrice, and built a bond that will last forever. Not only did Jeff welcome me to SEA, he provided me with resources and networks to continue school and find housing. 

I stopped school after high school to try and find a stable place to live. Jeff connected me with housing, and from there I branched out to different resources. He helped me find a room in the University District, somewhere I could afford and work. I stopped talking to Jeff for a while I focused on stabilizing my life. One day, I decided I really needed to go back to school to change my life. Jeff still had the same phone number! I was so shocked and relieved to know that SEA will still stay with me. I was so happy because Jeff was still the same and he still welcomed me back in. He helped me progress in college. 

He helped me with tutoring, mentoring, financial aid, everything! There were so many struggles at Seattle Central. As I was attending, I challenged myself to pursue a degree that not only was beneficial, but was challenging. I worked for a business degree. Jeff stuck with me throughout my three years at Seattle Central, even when I failed math class. He helped me get a tutor and study, and I passed the class with a 3.5! 

Jeff is my number one supporter through the good and the bad, and he’s incredibly relatable. With his help, I finally got to walk at graduation with my Associate’s in Business! I want to continue serving on SEA’s Student Advisory Board. I’d like to attend UW Foster School of Business.

 

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“I genuinely would not be where I am today without SEA.”

Husky 100: I was selected this year as a recipient of the Husky 100, which represents undergraduate and graduate students from Seattle, Bothell and Tacoma who “are making the most of the Husky Experience.”

I am a multiple-disabled high school dropout, and it was because of support from SEA that I was able to not only graduate from Shoreline Community College, but that I was able to remain enrolled at the University of Washington during a really difficult time in my life.

Students with psychiatric disabilities like myself have an 86% University dropout rate (Price 2011), despite having a significant amount to offer our communities. I am eternally grateful for all of the support I received from SEA and am forever indebted to this program as I genuinely would not be where I am today without it.

What I have been able to accomplish because of SEA:

I served two terms as Student Body President at Shoreline Community College, and served on a taskforce for the transfer of disability accommodations per SB 6466 in 2016. I served on this taskforce for two years as I transferred to the University of Washington. While at the University of Washington I worked for local startup, Nursing Evolutions, leading a project to review state law which would allow us to open our Pediatric Critical Care Facility. I then returned to disability advocacy, working as the Director of the ASUW Student Disability Commission. Here we did significant work (see link to Dennis Lang Award for more details: https://disabilitystudies.washington.edu/news/2019-05/dennis-lang-awards).

I served as Student Body President at Shoreline Community College for two years and was selected as commencement speaker in Spring of 2016.

I am graduating this Spring with a BA in Disability Studies, with Minors in Education, Learning and Society, & Diversity. I also have been providing a guest lecture in the UW College of Education, titled: Academic Disableism: Contemporary Issues in Segregation. This lecture teaches aspiring education professionals about the ways in which Special Education is being used to segregate communities of color, about the history of ascribing disability to marginalized communities, and how disabled students are being segregated into non-traditional programs.

 I was recently accepted to CUNY’s Master of Arts in Disability Studies, to begin this Fall. I hope to eventually pursue a career in higher education leadership, and/or pursue my PhD in Education, to address the need for distance learning integration in post secondary programs. I plan to continue to advocate for distance learning integration and universal design in post-secondary education at the University of Washington following my graduation.

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Announcing SEA’s new Executive Director, Laura DiZazzo!

After a thoughtful search, we are incredibly excited to announce that Laura DiZazzo has accepted the Executive Director position at Seattle Education Access to begin on July 8, 2019.

Laura has been an ardent supporter of SEA since 2008. In that time, Laura has acted as a program partner at two colleges and served as a member of our board of directors – and now we’re thrilled to have her as our leader!

Laura’s professional and personal achievements reveal a resilient, focused visionary with an unwavering commitment to the most diverse and historically marginalized students on our college campuses. As Laura stated, “We, as a society, are missing out on too many brilliant minds due to intergenerational cycles of poverty, systemic racism, and other structural bias. Without organizations like SEA working for social and racial justice, our post-secondary education system will continue to sell hope, but deliver inequity.”

Professionally, Laura’s dense resume includes many accomplishments as a non-profit and educational leader. Since 2012, Laura has worked in partnership with SEA as the Dean of Instruction for Basic and Transitional Studies at Seattle Central College.  Her work included collaboration with SEA to establish a high school reengagement program at Seattle Central College, Learning Center Seattle. During her tenure as Dean, Laura worked tirelessly to lead her department in serving 2,500 non-traditional students annually in the areas of adult basic education, English as a second language, GED completion, high school completion, and more. Between 2007 and 2012, Laura worked in partnership with SEA as the Dean of Instruction for Language, Academic Skills, and Wellness at Green River College.  While at Green River College, Laura expanded the community presence of basic skills programs across South King County and established the high school reengagement program and SEA partner site, iGrad.

Personally, her story reflects that of many SEA students. Due to the barriers she faced, Laura is acutely aware that statistically she should be in a very different place. Guidance from individuals outside of her family who helped her to explore college opportunities changed the trajectory of her life. As she explained, “I believe that the model of combining authentic relationships with funding and other post-secondary education supports changes lives – it did for me.”

Laura’s breadth of experience working with non-traditional students, expertise in organizational growth management, and deep institutional knowledge of SEA, paired with her personal experiences accessing higher education, makes her a spectacular fit as our next Executive Director. We are confident that Laura’s talents, leadership, and skills will shape SEA’s trajectory for years to come.

We are excited about how SEA will continue to grow, learn, and reflect with Laura’s leadership—and continuing SEA’s commitment to always centering the voices of those who are at the core of our mission.

 

 

 

Matthew Norman,

SEA Interim Board President

 

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“I had the chance to re-connect to my Samoan roots through UW Tacoma.”

My name is Joseph. I am a junior at the University ofWashington Tacoma pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and Systems.

The academics aren’t easy, but the biggest roadblock I’ve encountered in college is money. I’m lucky to have a part-time job that worked with my school schedule and to have financial aid cover a majority of my tuition costs. However, it still wasn’t enough. Even with the income from my job and financial aid, I still wasn’t making enough to cover for books and help pay for living expenses. I didn’t want to ask my family for financial assistance either. Growing up, we always had to worry about whether we had just enough money to pay the bills and get through the month. I wanted to be as independent as possible for them; I didn’t want to give my family one more thing to worry about. I needed that extra push to get me through each quarter, and I didn’t want to have to sacrifice the already delicate balance I had between work and school in order to get there.

Thanks to my education advocate, Nicolette, I didn’t have too. Nicolette connected me to a variety of scholarship opportunities that I could take in order to help alleviate the financial strain of college. She’s also been an amazing advisor, and was always willing to step up and offer the advice and help I needed. Thanks to these opportunities, I was allowed to keep growing. I’ve been able to meet some extraordinary people throughout my college career, many of whom I’m lucky enough to call my friends. Nowhere else would I have got the chance to reconnect with my Samoan roots through UW Tacoma’s Asian Pacific Islander Student Union. I couldn’t have done any of that without Nicolette. SEA provided the support I needed, and if there’s one thing I know, they’ll do their best to provide it for those in need too.

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“SEA was the window of opportunity and hope I needed.”


Family is everything to me. With all of the ups and downs I have experienced in my life, I consider myself lucky because I know my family is always with me. My life plans have been accomplished because of the values I have learned from my family, culture, and community.  

My name is Jazmine Stephanie Hernandez, I am a 17-year-old Mexican American young lady who truly understands that to achieve your goals you must show respect, work hard, be responsible and express gratitude. My mother taught me to dream big and value education, and that is exactly what I have been doing since I was a young child.

My mother is from Mexico and my father from Honduras. Our home was full of harmony and love with my siblings. All of that changed when my grandmother passed away. My father sunk into a depression and began being more and more aggressive towards my mother. Our happy family began to slip away as bills started to stack up and we couldn’t afford all of our needs. My mother decided to separate from my father and though it was hard for us, I knew it was the best decision for our family. She got a job at U.P.S. and I saw firsthand what hard work was, watching my mother work nights and be up in the morning making us breakfast and getting us ready for school. With all of the changes happening around me, my grades began to suffer and I became depressed.  

In January 2012, our house caught on fire and we barely escaped out of the back door. We were fortunate enough to have the Red Cross put us up in a hotel for a week, but my mother and I were crushed about losing all of our possessions and memories in the fire. We later moved in with a family friend and months after that we were able to find a two bedroom apartment we could afford so we could start our new life.

My mom started to feel ill and had difficulty breathing. I saw her get worse and worse every day which worried me a lot because she ate less, couldn`t walk much, and her feet began to swell. On December 23, 2014, my mother in the emergency room, was diagnosed with Chronic Kidney Disease and was told that dialysis was her only way to save her life. I was dying inside knowing that the person I love so much was suffering emotionally, physically, and mentally. She has no choice but to receive those treatments for the rest of her life or until she successfully has a kidney transplant. That day I noticed how lonely my mom was, but I felt how strong her love was for all of us. We were always by her side giving her comfort when she was at in the hospital, and she continues to get treatment three times a week.

When I was 14 years old I met my first partner and he was really special to me. I knew he was a nice person because he always treated people with good manners and respect. His parents offered my family help because they were aware of my mother`s health and financial situation. My dad knew I had a boyfriend and he told me he was not willing to support me if I became pregnant.  Later that year I discovered my pregnancy but I felt safe because I knew my partner was going to be there for support. My mom was not quite happy because I was really young and we were barely able to pay rent. 

I was so happy to become a mother and excited to share the news with my boyfriend. My excitement faded when he told me he was not interested in being a father an unwilling to take responsibility for our child. I later discovered he was part of a street gang and I didn’t want to raise my child near that environment. My mom and I decided we needed to move to be closer to her family in Seattle. My mother, siblings and I moved here to Washington when I was 4 months pregnant. I felt awful because my family was suffering the consequence of my actions. My mother told me this was not a mistake, but just a lesson I should learn from life. Because of my dad’s aggressive behavior, he currently is not aware of my baby`s existence and still pays my child support as a minor.

I gave birth to Julian Hernandez on January 7, 2016, and that day I was marked as a mother with pride, motivation and happiness. I was determined to complete my educational goals of finishing high school and attending college. With continued family backing, I work hard on being the best student I can for my son and for my little siblings to look up to.

I decided to work for high school and college credits since I detained my education during my pregnancy. When I felt everything was against me and dreams just couldn’t come true due to my low-income status, Seattle Education Access came in as the window of opportunity and hope I needed so desperately.  I want to demonstrate my ability as a Latina student and my role of mother as being a motivation never an obstacle.

SEA was and still is present to every important step I take and fortunately they will witness the results of their unconditional support during my graduation in this upcoming summer. The moment I submitted my first college application they assisted me with lots of resources and paid for all the fees (admin. & registration) which served as one more of my desires to achieve remarkable grades once being accepted into Bellevue College (the institute I currently attend). Purchase of books, transportation assistance, and several other needed assets was provided by SEA since my first college course. I have the commitment to make SEA proud of the faith, effort, and advocacy they’ve always instilled in my educational and personal life; SEA is simply the best in serving the community of low-income students.  SEA understands that at some point, we all think about just surrendering and giving up because of the lack of financial means to become a college student.

I will be graduating this summer (June 2019) with honors. My life has been pretty tough at times and I want to tear down all of the obstacles stopping me from achieving my goals. I want to raise my son to value his education and be able to provide him with all the tools he needs to have a bright future. I want to complete my career to help support my family financially and raise them out of poverty while guiding my siblings to go through the same path. All the experiences I have had in my life so far made me who I am, and I will prove to everyone in my family that even though I have my son I can graduate from university as with a law major. I will be the first graduate in my family to be successful young mother, student, and daughter and make my mother proud of the child she raised from her own.  

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Diamonique’s Big and Bold Dreams

I got pregnant when I was in my sophomore year of high school and never went back for my junior year. When I had my daughter in September of 2009, I did not have any support in figuring out how to navigate an educational path that suited my needs. I tried a high school completion program at a local college and I failed. I didn’t realize it then, but I didn’t have a support system or the resources I needed to be successful. I dropped out again. My family was unstable for years. My mom had been on and off abusing drugs and was not able to take care of me and my siblings properly.

No one really blinked in my direction when I dropped out of high school or failed at the high school completion program.
I was kicked out of my family home and experienced homelessness for a short period of time which was a great source of stress for me that caused my educational endeavors to suffer more.

After stabilizing my living situation, I got connected with Seattle Education Access when I was 19. My Education Advocate, Anthon, helped me through determining school options that worked out best for me and my lifestyle. I decided to pursue a GED and finished all the tests within a month. Next, I got help getting enrolled at North Seattle College and began working on my Associate’s degree. I’ve been in school since then. SEA helped me start my educational path. I got support with tutoring to prepare for my GED, practice books, and really individualized help that focused on my needs. SEA helped me to actualize my educational goals.

I have experienced feeling like I do not belong in institutions of higher learning throughout this entire journey. I have had to learn to make space for myself and people who identify similarly to me (black, woman, first-generation college student, low-income, and parent). I have felt insignificant and not as smart compared to my peers at times.

I really don’t think I would have made it this far with my education if I wasn’t given the tools to advocate for myself, make important connections, and get the support I needed to become successful in my education by my own definition. SEA helped me gain confidence and realize that pursuing education takes more than just being smart or intelligent. It’s difficult to get through higher education alone and no one who needs extra support should have to. Almost 7 years later, I have an A.A., a B.A. in psychology, and I am now in my second year of a PhD program in Quantitative Methods in Education through the Educational Psychology department at University of Minnesota.

My daughter is a perpetual source of inspiration to me. I think my interest in education and learning has sparked something beautiful in her. I am seriously always surprised by her and motivated to keep learning so that she can see someone who has taken a path less traveled (corny, I know). She talks about going to grad school, being a mathematician or an engineer.  I think it’s showing her that she can have dreams that are big, bold, and  difficult, and still reach them. 

-Diamonique

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