Can a college degree shift from a dream to reality when you’re a young mother, on your own and homeless? It’s more than possible. It was done by graduate Sharon Birckett.
College was something Sharon had wanted to do, but life seemed to keep putting it off. She had learned about Harcum’s partnership site program in Coatesville from a friend’s mother who worked in the education field, but without permanent housing, childcare or transportation, could not get her head around making it happen. Sharon just wasn’t ready at the time but for two years, earning a degree remained on her mind. Then, even though circumstances had not changed, she made a decision. ‘It started to seem like ready was never coming. I looked at my daughter and myself and decided ‘I need change. And nothing will change if I don’t make it happen.”
Sharon regathered the information she had learned about the program the year before and reconnected with site coordinator Sondra Brewer to apply and enroll. Upon joining the program, Sharon encountered a support network she didn’t have in her life. She learned that she wasn’t alone in her struggles, other students were also young mothers and going through difficult life challenges. She found an on-site coach in Ms. Brewer who encouraged and supported Sharon day in and day out, class in and class out to keep going. She learned from instructors who also offered encouragement and motivation, even giving Sharon some tough love when she needed it. And when that internal voice of self-doubt grew too loud, her aunt, who had walked a similar path and could speak from the other side, expressed assured confidence in Sharon’s ability to succeed. Her fellow students, site coordinator and instructors became a team who gave her the drive to continue when some days she just couldn’t find it herself.
Not only did making the decision to go back to school generate a support network for Sharon, but she came to learn that one of her employers had a childcare benefit and could provide transportation. In her third semester, Sharon also moved to her own apartment.
But it was Sharon who found and channeled her inner strength into earning a degree, day by day, week by week, semester by semester. Without pretense, Sharon says honestly, “It was hard. I wanted to quit every day.” Working two jobs and going to school, Sharon was severely sleep deprived and had very little time with her daughter. But she knew earning a degree would pave the way to a better life in the long term. “I wanted to show her that you don’t quit when things get tough.”
And Sharon did not quit. She graduated a semester early in October of 2020 with an associate degree in human services. “When my degree came in the mail, I cried tears of relief and rejoicing.” Sharon is not putting off furthering her education this time around and is in the process of identifying a bachelor’s degree program to begin this fall.
Congratulations Sharon. You earned that degree! We hope you are as proud of yourself as we are.