Ashley’s Story

ImageIf I lay out my life, it may be easy to draw out hardship, but attitude mixed with action has birthed solutions.

Seven years ago I suffered hospitalizing, life-threatening trauma to my right femoral artery, and damage to my femoral vein and nerve. I am now left with reliance upon mobility devices. My leg hasn’t been the same since. My life hasn’t either. This initial injury was a direct result of my intravenous heroin and cocaine addiction. I have been clean since October 31st, 2010. Rebuilding my life meant going to school, but my struggles with poverty, mobility, and homelessness have been barriers seemingly impossible to overcome.

Homelessness has given me great challenge. Near the end of my first year sober, I had surgery and lost my housing. A good friend took me in, monitored my medication, helped me dress, and even bathed me. After ten days, I went to the next couch, while I paid daily visits to the holder of my meds to get my prescribed dose. In order to stay clean, I had to be accountable to somebody besides myself.

When school started, I didn’t know which alley or doorway I would sleep in; or, if I was lucky, whose couch I would sleep on, and if I’d be safe. I had to choose a use for my good shoulder: a backpack weighted with school supplies, or my cane? Still wearing a sling, I left behind my cane in exchange for the backpack and my heavy limp. Every day while traveling, at some point, the pain would become too much to bear. I would have to stop to rest, to cry, to pray.

Recovering from addiction and the condition of my leg has taught me how to succeed. Patience was a lesson I learned. It is a tool I keep hold of, for it brings me peace even when everything in my life seems to be a morass.

Every fall and winter, crosswalks daunt me. On my way to school, I’ll begin to walk across a crosswalk, depending on my walker to enable my journey to the other side of the street. Halfway through the crosswalk, the light usually changes, but I’m unable to move any faster. Each step promises pain so severe, it’s like an electrical cloud that radiates from the insides to the surfaces of my leg, and reverberates up my spinal cord. Shoulders tense. Eyes squint. Heart pounds. Tears trail. Everything tells me to stop walking. But I don’t. Displeased drivers wait for me, edge close to me, a silence louder than any horn. I feel powerless, but not hopeless. On and on and on I edge, until my goal (the street corner) is met. To make it, I have to look down at what is relevant: my next step. If I look up, an overwhelming distance will distract me from my path, for I can’t get to the corner in a leap. Instead I must take painful baby steps. The result is a perception change, a reminder of how to live: set long-term goals and focus on progression, not on a utopia that is yet out of reach. If I focus on where I am not, then I might lose track of where I am.

I would not have gotten across any crosswalk if I didn’t have a ground to walk on. My independence depends on something outside of me. 

Seattle Education Access (SEA) became that supportive ground. I worked with SEA to go back to school. I began attending South Seattle Community College in Winter 2011, and then transferred to the University of Washington in fall 2013. When I started, I didn’t have any money, nor did I have any place to live. But I knew that moving forward was so much better than what was behind me. I couldn’t have done it alone and I knew that there was support out there. Seattle Education Access helped me get a home and helped me get food. My Education Advocate, Danika, even took me to the store and went grocery shopping with me. SEA also got me special shoes, which allowed for less time walking with my walker. They were like walking on clouds! I’ve learned that it’s important to be humble and ask for help, for the people I have seen succeed are the people who are willing to ask for help.

I graduated from SSCC with a 3.99 GPA and earned the President’s Medal. I have earned all 4.0s in my first quarter at the UW. The UW is a big school which has been physically challenging. Every day, I walk and sit through pain, but all these are irrelevant to the big picture. Though it hurts, it’s just another step to reaching my potential. The pain is worth it. I’m truly fulfilled. Today, I’m really studying what I want. That’s why it’s worth it, I get to wake up and read the books I really want to read. It’s so exciting. I’ve found a passion.

Linguistics and writing are my edifications. I am fascinated with language, how it works in the brain, the evolution of language and how meanings of words change, and mostly, the affect language has on one’s perception of reality. One of my long-term goals is to become a college professor so I may pass on my ardency for the academia of language. Another goal is to finish writing the book about the life I used to live. The intent to write this is for its cathartic process, and most emphatically, it’s something I want to accomplish to reach out to at least one other person who is as hopeless as I used to be. I was a street hooker strung out on crack/cocaine and heroin, destined, or so I had chosen to believe, to die as a result of that lifestyle. This is far from my truth today. Socrates is often quoted with, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” I understand this because for most of my life I didn’t live. Language allows me to live.

I have a passion for letting people know that they are worthy of a chance, too.  As Seattle Education Access, the disability resources at school, my educators, friends who have lent me nights on their couches, and those who’ve shown me that I could recover from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body have helped me, I aim to do for others as well. This is why I volunteer my time as an English tutor. This is why I yearn to write my story. This is also why I desire to become a professor. It’s because working with others is the sustenance of my growth, fulfillment, and success.

For living, passions were born, and gratitude for them has propelled me through adversity. 

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Frenchescia’s Story

ImageFrenchescia is studying business and accounting at Edmonds Community College. She plans to transfer to a four year university. She is passionate about fashion and plans to open her own retail store and fashion line.

I have faced a plethora of barriers in my pursuit of academic success. At home, I faced an unyielding abusive environment that left me with a disability. At school, I faced cracks in the education system where even bright students are left behind. I survived homelessness and poverty. My biggest barrier was my lack of a high school diploma or equivalent, needed in order to attend college.

These barriers threatened to erode my hope for the college education I knew that I needed in order to reach my goal of a sustainable career as a business owner in the fashion industry. I knew that if I could finish college and reach my goals, I would not only have creative and rewarding work but also have a flexible work schedule, quality time for my future family, and financial stability and security.

Through hard work, determination, and SEA’s support, I was able to complete my GED at PSKS within the challenging one month time frame that I set for myself. My Education Advocate helped me enroll at Edmonds Community College. SEA granted me a scholarship in order to purchase my textbooks and supplies and also gave me a computer to ensure my success in my hybrid classes.

I wish I could say that there were no further barriers standing in the way of my education once I reached that point, but I cannot. I ended up having to medically withdraw from school because of a serious illness. SEA did not abandon me during my illness. Instead they re-issued my scholarship once I was well enough to return to school. My Education Advocate even personally delivered my scholarship check to me on her day off when my rental payment date was abruptly changed by my landlord so I wouldn’t be charged a late fee. SEA was and is a crucial element to my educational success as is helping me achieve my life goals. 

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Meet our Students: Ruzielle

ImageRuzielle graduated last year from The Evergreen State College and now serves on our Board of Directors.

My passion for education started at a very young age. I had a thirst to learn everything, read everything, and teach everyone what I knew. My childhood dream was to become a college professor, and for years I worked steadily towards achieving my dream of becoming an educator. After my first year of college in the Philippines, my family immigrated to the United States. I discovered that education in America comes with a very hefty price tag that undercuts the people who need it the most. 

After I received my AA degree from SeattleCentralCommunity College, I attended The Evergreen State College for two quarters. I opted out of student loans, and worked over 40 hours a week instead, commuting back and forth from Olympia to Renton to save on housing costs. 

Despite my academic achievements, I didn’t felt I was good enough to finish college and achieve my dreams.  My financial restrictions weighed heavily upon me. I was faced with the debilitating decision of finishing my Bachelor’s degree or working to support my family. Most importantly, I didn’t have the support network and community that I now have with SEA. I dropped out of college in the fall of 2007. I’d made this life-changing decision while watching a movie in the theater, and I thought I had sealed this chapter of my life.

Despite dropping out of college, I stayed active in educational and academic communities. I was a volunteer bookseller at Left Bank Books, and I also volunteered at the Renton Public Library. I was a donor for the newly-minted Friends of the RentonSchool District, which helped raise much-needed funds for K-12 schools that are facing drastic budget cuts. My fundraising efforts have also benefited The Evergreen City Ballet.

Unbeknownst to me, I was building my own path back to academia. I was feeling stagnant and dispensable in the hospitality industry, and I wanted to do more work with non-profit organizations and socially-conscious businesses. I was hired at FareStart as a catering server. At the same time, I was contemplating re-enrolling in college. As luck would have it, I was one of the servers for SEA’s Tenth Anniversary party hosted at FareStart. I picked up one of the flyers left behind in the party, and I knew right away I had to call and make an appointment.

 Even though I waited months before making that call, I knew it was the right decision. With the support of my education advocate, I was able to enroll for the fall quarter, and her belief in me gave me the confidence to apply and win two scholarships the same school year. I was the first annual recipient of the AAF Seattle Silver Medal Scholarship, and the ASWSU-Online Academic Achievement Scholarship. I also applied for the newly-founded SEA Student Advisory Board. A few days ago I attended our first meeting and I look forward to the rest of the year with the team. I am now a graduate of The Evergreen State College.

For me, a degree means more than a diploma and a line on my resume. I’ve always been drawn to the acquisition and sharing of knowledge. With my work in the non-profit sector, I’ve seen how education changes people’s lives for the better, especially for the people who need the most help. Looking at my own life, I’m constantly amazed at how it’s moving towards bigger and better things since I went back to college and understood my own passion for education. It’s been a delight to be a part of SEA’s work to encourage the growth and blossoming of many young people who would have otherwise fallen through the cracks. 

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Meet our Students: Brady, Valerie, and Baby Izabella

ImageBrady just finished his first year at Cascadia Community College; he plans on transferring to the University of Washington, majoring in business, and going to law school. Valerie has one quarter left to finish her AA transfer degree; she plans on transferring to UW Bothell, majoring in Community Psychology, and working at a nonprofit. Both will be the first in their family to graduate from college.

Brady and Valerie have a lot to be proud of. They have a beautiful baby girl, and they are both doing great in college. They have an apartment, a bright future, and are engaged to be married next year. But things haven’t always been easy for them, and they’ve both travelled a hard road to get to where they are today. I asked them to share a little about their past, in order to give hope and encouragement to young people who are still struggling with the challenges they have overcome: poverty, homelessness, addiction.

“Hold on to hope – don’t give up,” Brady says, when asked if he has any advice for young people still struggling to overcome these challenges. “It’s never too late to make things right and build a different future.”

Valerie says that she hit bottom in 2010. After some jail time, she started college, and has been sober and getting good grades ever since. In 2012, she ran into an old friend from high school who she hadn’t seen in a long time. Like her, Brady was facing a long climb out of a life of addiction. They fell in love, and Valerie encouraged Brady to go back to school and referred him to Seattle Education Access, which she had heard good things about from other students.

“When I first came to SEA, I had a vision for my education but I was facing a lot of barriers. At SEA I didn’t have to jump through hoops and fill out a ton of paperwork,” says Brady. “SEA’s program is based on face time; I walked in, asked for help, and got it right away.” SEA paid for Brady’s application fee and testing fee, and offered a small scholarship. He adds, “I was just coming out of treatment, and it was really encouraging knowing that the SEA staff believed in me and my future.” He started college in fall of 2012 and has made the honor roll all three quarters since then.

Baby Izabella was born by emergency caesarean June 8 – the weekend before finals. Thanks to their determination to succeed and their support and love for each other, they both made it to all their final exams and both got all A’s and B’s for the quarter.

Both Brady and Valerie are active in twelve step programs; Brady is now a sponsor. They both say that college has played an important role in their recovery and sobriety. “Schooling has given us direction and a sense of purpose,” says Valerie. “When you are using, your whole life revolves around drugs. When you are in school, you are around positive people who are moving forward. You have goals and a sense of hope. You are building a future for yourself and your family.” 

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Meet Our Alumnus & College Dreams Master of Ceremonies: Anttimo Bennett

Anttimo Bennett

As the College Dreams Luncheon draws closer, we would like to introduce the master of ceremonies Anttimo Bennett – an SEA alumni who first connected with SEA eight years ago to prepare for his GED. Today, he is in the Master’s of Public Administration program at Seattle University while raising his four beautiful kids. Read on to find out how his college dreams became a reality.

Anttimo D. Bennett, Sr. was born November 30, 1981 in Seattle, WA.  Although a ward of the state, he has been blessed with the nurture and support of an extended and loving family, his mother Alanna James, his father Anthony Bennett and his great aunt and uncle Mr. & Mrs. Michael and Camelia Melonson; who raised him.

After receiving his GED, Anttimo went on to pursue his education with the love and support from Seattle Education Access. He received his AA Degree from Shoreline Community College in 2005, and then transferred to the University of Washington where he graduated in 2009 with two Bachelors Degrees in Social Welfare and American Ethnic Studies.  He served two terms on the UW Board of Directors with his final term serving as Student Body President. He is now pursuing his MPA at Seattle University.

Anttimo has been blessed to be the father of four beautiful children, his daughter Caedyn Janece and three sons, Elijah Jamil, Anttimo Deshaun Jr. and Ahsan David.  Along with fatherhood, he works for Group Health Cooperative as an Analytical Assistant and is also a certified varsity official with the Pacific Northwest Basketball Officials Association (PNBOA). Anttimo is also a licensed preacher at the Greater Mt. Baker Missionary Baptist Church and received his license to preach on August 4, 2013.

The College Dreams Luncheon will take place on September 10th at the Westin in downtown Seattle. The SEA community will come together to show their support of SEA’s cause – to help low income students overcome poverty and adversity through the power of education.

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Meet Our Student: Tyiesha

Tyiesha is enrolled in the Certified Nursing Assistant program at South Seattle Community College. She plans to become a registered nurse, then an OB/GYN.

I dropped out of high school and moved away from home at an early age. Though my parents were divorced they always made sure I had shoes on my feet, clothes on my back, and food in my belly. At age 15, I started hanging out with the wrong crowd. At the same time my relationship with my parents got a little bumpy and I moved out.

I decided I wanted to change my life for the better and to get away from negative people. Once that happened, blessings started coming into my life. I had a son and he brought my family together. Now they support me and know how to uplift me. That is keeping me motivated. Now that I’ve changed and grown, I really want to succeed for myself and my family.

I have always loved helping people and making them smile. People at my former job kept telling me they could see me becoming a nurse or a counselor. The light bulb went on when a colleague told me “I know you want to become a nurse – well you should do it! You need something long term to do for your son.” I decided I was tired of working minimum wage jobs and was going to make something of myself even if I had to go to school for the rest of my life.

Renton Youth Source connected me with Jeff Corey and Seattle Education Access. If I hadn’t had Jeff and SEA’s program linking me to school, I don’t think I would have gone back to school.  I was so nervous. At one point I wanted to give up, but Jeff helped me with whatever I needed. It’s awesome to have people there to help you.

I enrolled in the Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) program at South Seattle Community College. Working with a different group of people was a cool experience. I worked with people from all sorts of different backgrounds and ages. The CNA program it opened my eyes to how many people need help. I want people to feel comfortable and feel good. I decided I wanted to keep going to nursing school and then become and OB/GYN with my own practice.

Right now I’m progressing with my GED. I have one more test to go – the math test. I knew nothing about math when I started. Now I’m studying for that and getting motivated. Next I plan to go through the Licensed Nurse Practitioner program (LPN) and then go to the Registered Nursing (RN) program. I plan to go to a 4-year university then onto medical school. It’s inspiring to know that my little hands could bring someone back to health or save a life. I want to help bring life into this world.

It was a bumpy road, but now I know what to do. I’ve learned how to be professional. That has carried me a long way. From where I started to where I am now, my confidence is at an all time high. I want to be successful: to make my parents proud and especially to make my son proud.

When things get stressful, it’s great to have people around me who want me to do well. My little brother is in high school now and he’s saying: “You’re inspiring me. I want to be like you.” I want to be that inspiration and am proud I can be that for my family today. 

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Meet Our Student: Hector

Hector on Graduation DayI am Hector from Jalisco Mexico. I have loved learning my entire life. In primary school, I would study for hours — even on holidays.  Though I loved learning, I had to stop going to school after 6th grade so I could support my 11 sisters and brothers. I always wanted to go back to school, but I didn’t have that option growing up.

When I was 17, I moved from my home village of El Salbador to join my brother in the United States. I worked construction for 10 years before I went back to school. When I hurt my back on the job, I had to start all over again.

My brother was a great support to me. He knew I wanted to learn English and encouraged me to go back in school. To tell you the truth, I did not believe I could learn English while recovering from my injury. I experienced the worst pain I have ever had but little by little my pain went to the back of my mind, and I began to dream of earning my GED. I enrolled in classes at Green River Community College; it was so exciting to be in the school again. I took GED classes in the evening and the ESOL classes in the morning.

I am the first person in my family to learn to read and write English. At first, I didn’t tell my brother I was going to school because I wanted to surprise him. I am the kind of person who does things instead of telling everybody my plans. I show people my commitment with evidence instead of with words alone. When I told my brother I had enrolled in classes and was learning English, he was really happy and proud.

I earned my ESOL degree and GED in 2012. Now I’m in my second quarter of Adult Basic Education. I don’t want to stop. The time for me is now, not tomorrow, to get an education. The most important thing for me is to work hard and do well in classes. This past quarter I earned a 4.0 in my English and Math classes. That feels really good.

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My plan is to finish pre-college classes in fall then go on to earn my bachelor’s degree. I like to learn about how things work and why. I’m interested in learning more about both the medical field and business management. I would like to do work that creates jobs and helps others.

I’m proud to see how far I have come in such a short time. It’s satisfactory to get high scores in school, especially when I think back to three years ago when I did not write a word of English. Today, I’m taking English classes and earning grades that I make me feel so proud.

Education has changed my life.  If I hadn’t gone back to school, I wouldn’t be able to communicate with new people. I’m proud that I can share my point of view and learn from others. I would say to anyone who wants to go back to school, you can do it. When you put your mind to it, there is no limit to what you can do.

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