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Joy had tried college earlier in life as a young adult, but it just wasn’t the time for her to take higher education seriously. She pursued full time work and started a family instead. But the thought of getting a college degree never fully left her mind.

Years later, college reentered the forefront of her thoughts when she drove by an ACE partnership site at a local church. But it wasn’t a good time; several significant life challenges demanded her attention. More years passed, then Joy drove by another ACE partnership site and decided to check it out.

By then, the life barriers had cleared and she was ready to walk through the door of college opportunity. She met the Deliverance team and learned more about the ACE program. She appreciated the convenience of neighborhood based classes, but what about financial aid and managing life as a full time student, employee, and parent? How was she supposed to do all of that at the same time?! The team put her mind at ease explaining that classes took place only two times per week and they helped her navigate financial aid. Joy had a 15 year old balance at another school that was demanding an immediate, unaffordable  payment. With the help of the Deliverance team, that balance was proven to be inaccurate and Joy’s eligibility for financial aid was restored. She began her college journey with a clean slate.

Reflecting on the program, Joy celebrates the small class size and individualized teaching. The family atmosphere created by Ms. Celeste and her team was key to her success. “They supported and encouraged me. They weren’t about the numbers and money; they cared about us as individuals.” And students cared about each other. “I’m still friends with my classmates.”

Joy performed well in classes and was invited to join the Phi Theta Kappa honor society. Upon graduation, the Deliverance team encouraged her to keep going on her college journey. “Get your bachelor’s degree now, why wait?” Recalling the time gap between her first college enrollment and her restart at Deliverance, Joy agreed. “My will was turned toward the goal.” She was able to transfer all credits earned from the associate degree to a bachelor’s degree program in social work with Alvernia University and entered as a junior. Joy also went on to complete a Master’s Degree in Social Work. Poignantly, she earned her MSW the same year that her daughter graduated high school, a powerful demonstration of the role model Joy was and is to her girls.

Joy’s long term vision is to establish social service centers within the structure of organizations and gathering spaces already utilized by the community. She imagines using recreation centers as safe spaces where youth can talk through the traumatic impact of gun violence. For adults, she envisions locating job search, public benefit registration, and counseling services in one place. “Having to go to different places at different times for the help you need triggers frustration and discouragement which deters people from moving further.” Co-location, on the other hand, reserves clients’ mental energy for taking their next step forward. The completion of that step then generates energy for continued progress.

Joy acknowledges that there will always be a lot going on and plenty to worry about in life. However, she also notes that the inclusion of college lessens rather than increases that anxiety.  “By going to school, you’re operating in an ecosystem of forward progress.”

The ACE team invites you to begin your journey.