ACE Success Stories
Helping you take the complicated out of college
Meet Thomas Jarrett. A graduate from Harcum College with honors, who is now pursuing his Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work at West Chester University. But he didn’t start there. He had bounced around a few retail jobs and then landed a position as manager and then supervisor, which ame with a crazy schedule. But higher education never left his mind.
Thomas felt like his life path was set and opportunity had passed him by. But he was unwilling to settle for such dissatisfaction with his life. He took some time off from work to reflect. In those quiet moments, Thomas saw that this wasn’t the end of the road for him. Then he saw a Facebook Ad about going to college right in his community through the ACE program. He knew right away that now was his time to go back to college. ACE gave him the way.
He understood that his natural habit of helping others was an expression of what he wanted to do with his life. This shift in mindset reframed the way Thomas understood his life experiences. “Everyone has their season. The journey is the journey. This is my season.”
Like many, Henrietta Washington realized that education was the pathway to accomplish her dreams. Raising a family without a high school diploma required some creative job applications and several employment changes. Henrietta finally stopped avoiding the inevitable when she was unable to raise money for a recovery house she opened and enrolled in a high school completion program. When she earned her high school diploma at age 59, education went from being something to run from to something to run toward. “I realized that I can still learn and achieve my dreams.” And she was just getting started.
Motivated by her first educational victory, Henrietta enrolled in the ACE program as soon as she learned about the opportunity. “From the time I was a little girl, I always wanted to go to college, but life showed up…I had lost all hope of ever going back to school.” The unique and supportive environment of ACE, with its small class sizes, encouraging instructors, and community feel fostered Ms. Washington’s self-esteem, determination and courage. Though these characteristics are part of Henrietta’s nature, she had not applied them in the classroom. When she did, she experienced a love for learning and caught the spark for education.
After completing an associate degree in 2013, Ms. Washington then earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Human Services from Lincoln University in 2016 and is now enrolled in a doctoral program with Capella University. With the addition of formal education to her life experience, Henrietta plans to serve the community by opening a holistic social services center.
“Education is the key to making all that you’ve ever dreamed about happening. It’s the key that will open the door and give you more than your heart could ever expect.”
Life struggles can be opportunities to make life changes. When it feels like life as we’ve known it is falling apart, it may be a time to step into the unknown and take a bold step forward, such as furthering one’s education.
“School has helped me gain more knowledge everyday about who I am, and who I will become.”
Nicole Spruill’s journey through the ACE program proves that education has no age limit. A mother and grandmother, Nicole had been out of school for a long time before beginning her associate degree studies. Assured by the partnership site coordinator that all ages were represented in the student body, she jumped in.
As an employee of an ACE partnership site, Nicole didn’t even have to leave work to go to class. Her employer also provided flexibility in her schedule to facilitate class attendance. Not only was the program convenient to her workplace and work schedule, Nicole grew professionally and personally participating in college classes through the ACE program. Nicole saw improvements in key skill areas, such as writing and public speaking, which are in high demand by employers across industries. Working through group projects and experiencing peer support, she has learned to operate effectively in a team environment and trust team members. On the career level, Nicole gained focus and confirmation of her choice to advance in the human services field. She now sees herself on a career path rather than simply holding a job. “I thank the program for helping lead the way to my true passion…It has helped me find myself and my place.”
While acknowledging the accessibility and helpfulness of the instructors, and the support of the site coordinator and family members, Nicole’s success is her own. “Attending ACE has been one of my biggest accomplishments.”
Maintaining a GPA worthy of the Dean’s list for the entire second year of her studies and winning the prize of a computer for proactive use of an online career planning tool, Nicole will be a member of the class of 2020, graduating in Spring with her associate degree. Her words to future students: “Always strive to do your best..”
A natural leader at home and in the community, Robbie Holland Major was a go-to person in the neighborhood. “All kinds of people gravitate to me and I do what I can to meet their needs.” Robbie founded People Against Senseless Violence, a support group for persons who have lost family members to violence, after her own son was killed. “I use my personal grief to help others.” But she wanted to make an even bigger difference.
Ms. Holland always wanted a college degree, and, encouraged by those she already served, she enrolled in the human services degree program to improve and expand her counseling skills. “What made it so good – it was right in my backyard!” Yet, even with life and leadership experience, Ms. Robbie had reservations about going to college as an older adult. But the ACE program gave her the support she needed to persevere. Like many ACE students, that needed support was encouragement. Hearing a chorus of “you can do it” from professors, college staff and the on-site coordinator, Robbie grew in confidence and began to believe in herself.
Though studies were challenging, Robbie earned a spot on the Dean’s List and in the academic honor society. She even competed with her nephew for grades and inspired him to reengage in school. “You gonna let this old girl go back and get her degree and you not?”
“You can do anything with knowledge. I did better than I even imagined.”
Edward Martinez’s first experience with college is a familiar one. Eager to pursue a degree, he arrived on campus with high expectations. However, as is often the case at large schools, Edward was scheduled for classes that didn’t make sense for him academically, he felt lost among the crowds of students and didn’t get the individual attention he needed from his instructors. Like most adults, Edward also needed a class schedule that enabled him to both work and attend school.
Disappointed and assuming all colleges would be the same, Edward chose not to continue but remained in the field of education and began working at his former high school. While there, he learned about the ACE program from a previous staff member who graduated two years prior.
Unlike Edward’s former college instructors, his ACE program coordinator was very accessible. He came to recognize that his prior experience did not mean he didn’t fit at college, but rather that his former college program didn’t fit him. “Right off the bat I could feel the sense of caring and understanding that I heard so much about. She helped me gain a better understanding of what I wanted to do and what was the best path to take in order to ensure I was making the best decisions for myself.”
“I transitioned from being a student engaged in the enrollment process to an employee who helps with the enrollment process. It’s exciting to see students motivated to attend school and graduate because you are helping them create a better future for themselves.”
Having gained a clearer sense of the path to the Ph.D. he’s dreamed about, Edward is taking it “one degree at a time” and graduated in December 2018 with an Associate Degree in Business Management.
“It’s never too late. This is a program for everyone.”
Dropping out of high school at age 16 to provide for a child on the way is what made sense at the time. But by age 20, John Smith determined not to get stuck working minimum wage jobs for the rest of his life and recognized the importance of education. A key turning point came when he served a short sentence for a gun charge and heard the stories of older inmates who were in and out of jail their whole lives, none of whom had a college degree. Many barely graduated high school. In order to not get wrapped up in the same cycle of poverty and violence, John knew he had to go back to school. “I saw a college degree as the only way for me to make it away from all the bull—.”
It’s been a tiring uphill road that has required sacrifices, but John is a steady, strong climber. He graduated from One Bright Ray Community High School and immediately enrolled in the on-site ACE program to pursue an associate’s degree. After a full day at work, John heads to class and though not home until 10 pm, he knows he is paving the way for his children, brothers and sister to earn their college degrees.
John is now leading his life, not the other way around. In addition to school, he manages the catering department of a large grocery chain, overseeing 26 employees and $2.6 million in annual sales, having worked his way up from dishwasher, server, cook, and night supervisor positions. After graduating this Spring, John plans to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Restaurant Management from Drexel University, in preparation for running his own catering business.
You’re a confident woman, mother, worker and community leader. You’ve been recognized and promoted at your job, you taught yourself how to take care of a daughter diagnosed with autism and now help teach other families and you share your experience with human service professionals. Yet you are not confident when it comes to starting college.
That voice of doubt echoes in your mind, “can I do it?” Icylee Basketbill was not sure until hearing the story of another ACE graduate. “I told myself that if he can do it, I can do it.” And she did. She felt immediately welcome by her fellow students and strongly supported by the staff at the ACE partnership site. When she had a problem getting her financial aid award to pay for tuition, the staff coached her through a call to the financial aid agency and she got her grant. Other college programs may not notice when you have a problem and think about walking away. At ACE, we won’t let you do that. We will work with you to find a way through school, work and life challenges so you complete your degree.
Also, because ACE values your work and life experience as an adult, Icylee realized the value she brings to the classroom. “My experience has taken me halfway to achieving my goal. I just have to get the credentials.” Icylee came to recognize herself as a college student. You may not see yourself as a knowledgeable college student, but we do.
Icylee is now an honors student, pursuing a degree in human services, paving the way to a Master’s Degree and career in marriage and family therapy. She offers this advice to all who are considering starting the ACE college program, “If your mind is telling you yes, go for it. You won’t know if you don’t go.”
Maurice Gates arrived at mid-life and, as many do, made an inventory of his accomplishments. He had served in the Gulf War. He was a single parent proudly and lovingly raising his two young children. He derived great pleasure from reading and listening to music. He loved sports. But Maurice still had something he wanted to do since his youth — achieve college education. “I knew, as I had always known, there was so much more I could achieve in my life if I had a degree.”
Earning a college degree is not just about a piece of paper. It’s also about the experience of learning new ideas, meeting and making friends, and learning how to learn. Maurice understood that going to college was a huge decision, one he was ready to make. “I recommitted myself to me. Yes it would be a challenge. But I decided to put my best foot forward — and then to keep moving.”
Maurice has been on the Dean’s List every semester since he started college and was named to the President’s List two times. “Being able to take college classes right in Coatesville has made this possible” he says. “And when I graduate, I look forward to getting a good job and buying a home for my family.”
As Maurice proves, you can begin your college studies at any time in your life. The only thing you need is the determination to walk the path to graduation, and the committed staff of the ACE program will be with you every step of the way.
You’re employed and paying your bills. You’re helping your family. You’ve developed solid skills in a career field. But it’s not what you want to do as your life’s work. How do you make a change? Is it possible? The journey of Marilyn Collazo in the ACE program answers that question with a resounding YES! With experience and knowledge in the healthcare field, Marilyn continues to earn a living while earning an associate’s degree from Harcum College through ACE.
“I would encourage anyone to enter the program. It is very convenient and manageable. I am able to work full time and go to school full time, attending class two nights per week. I often run into obstacles that life throws my way, just like everyone else, but school comes first. The professors and staff work with you because they know you have other responsibilities.”
Rather than being a burden, school has helped Marilyn improve her time management skills and break into her desired field – law and justice. She worked with ACE staff and professors to find an internship in a criminal justice court and network with professionals who answered questions, gave advice about career paths, and can connect her to a job after graduation.
Marilyn decided to invest in herself by enrolling in the ACE college program in order to enter a career she will love. She invites you to do the same.
James Washington has dreams. He is an ambitious person. And he takes action to make those ambitions a reality.
Driven by a vision to become a lawyer, James tagged along with family friends at the age of seven to read legal briefs in their law offices. As a young man, he took steps to further his education and started postsecondary programs, but could not continue when the health needs of a family member demanded his time and primary attention. But James never lost sight of his dreams.
When learned he could take college classes and earn a degree at a church in his neighborhood, he jumped at the opportunity. The ACE site coordinator and his fellow students provided James the support, encouragement and very practical help (transportation, meals) he needed while going back to school. He knew he wasn’t alone on this journey.
Not only did ACE provide a means to earn a degree, it offered him a job serving the community. James was volunteering his time to help new students achieve their dream of a college education. ACE program staff took notice and invited James to become a Community Education Advocate, or CEA, spreading the word about the importance of a college education and bringing new students to the program. “As a CEA, I am impacting people’s lives by helping them build toward their futures through higher education.” Naturally inclined to meet others’ needs and equipped by his law and justice courses, James also assists clients of public defenders build stronger cases by conducting legal research through a nonprofit organization he started. James begins a Bachelor’s Degree program at Penn State this fall.
“ACE has aided my professional growth and brought me a step closer to my dreams.”
Finding the right college program can be a barrier for adults looking to return to school. Does it have the degree program I want? Are the right courses available? Do they fit with my schedule? Do I like the location? Is it easy for me to get to? How long will it take to get a degree?
Shannon Tennant had looked for a local college offering courses she wanted but couldn’t find the right fit. Then she found the ACE program, offering an associate degree in Law and Justice in the evening, close to home, in a familiar place with an accelerated path to a degree. Shannon enjoyed her work with troubled children — and she knew she could be even more effective if she had a college degree. “My goal is to become a Behavioral Health Specialist with at risk youth or a Juvenile Probation Officer.”
Shannon says it was hard work to keep a job and go to college at the same time, but this was her dream. She developed the self-discipline necessary to get her schoolwork done and improved her time management skills. Her success in the classroom surprised her, at first. “The accelerated program has helped me realize how much ability I have. I have been a straight A student. I never thought I would make the Dean’s List.” Shannon’s potential and confidence has been released through ACE. “My next step is to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Law and Justice. And, I plan to get my master’s degree.”
Shannon is on the path to achieving her career goals.
“The search for the right college is over. Apply to ACE.”
Michelle Schofield is a small business owner who started her own salon when laid off from her job where she had worked for 23 years. Michelle chose to major in Leadership Studies where she practiced skills in teambuilding, communication, planning and management. “I am thriving in my leadership position because of the education and network of support I received while attending Harcum College.”
Not only did the courses help Michelle run her business better, her experience in the ACE program is helping her to lead the community to a better place. She became involved in politics during President Obama’s 2008 campaign and encouraged by an ACE political science professor to become more deeply involved in local politics. Michelle is now involved with the Democratic Committee in her community and ran for elected office this Spring.
“ACE empowered me to be where I am today. I am a better mom, I am a business owner, and I am involved in my city.”
You think you can’t afford to go to college. You have a job, kids and you’re a single mom. And even if you could find the time to go— actually getting to the college, figuring out where you need to go, who you need to talk to, getting to class on time— it all seems impossible.
Lolette Brightman thought attending college was impossible. Until she found the ACE program. She worked with one person who helped her apply for financial aid. Another person was available to help find her tutoring, when she needed it, and to help with any computer problems. One of the most appealing aspects of ACE was its location right in her neighborhood. There were no buses to take, or taxis; no need to arrange for rides with friends.
Like so many students at ACE, Lolette has a passion. “I’m a teacher. And it’s hard work. But I never get tired because this is more than just a job.”
With a major in Early Childhood Education, Lolette is learning new ways of teaching that she can immediately apply in her own classroom. She also enjoys sharing her knowledge with the people who run the school where she currently works. “I really like that I’m able to improve the situations and experiences of others— not just my own.”
Going to college has helped Lolette to define goals for herself, and for her children. “I realized that I want to open a daycare center of my own, to help other single parents. Giving back. It’s something each of us has to figure out how to do. ACE taught me that it’s never too late to achieve your goals.”
“The search for the right college is over. Apply to ACE.”
I thought a college degree was impossible for me. But I wanted it. I used to sit on the campus of a university near where I grew up, enjoying the diverse climate, trying to imagine myself as a college student. I was raised to work and I was expected to get a job (or four) after high school. A college education was not on the radar. I became a licensed barber and worked in a youth group home. Then I heard about the I-LEAD ACE program one Sunday at church.
Working two human service jobs and cutting hair on the side meant I had very little time for classes and homework. But the ACE program made college doable because it was very accommodating to me as a working adult. ACE gave me a schedule that fit into my working life, it was flexible, and, most importantly, it brought college to me in my community.
During the program, I had a work conflict with a class schedule. Using the negotiation skills I learned in class (that’s how practical the Leadership curriculum is!), I presented my grades to my supervisor (straight As) and we discussed switching my work hours so I could attend class.
ACE has helped me achieve and given me more market value as a professional. I graduated from Harcum in 2012 with an Associate’s Degree in Leadership and went on to Lincoln University to earn my Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Human Services which I completed in April of this year. I’m also working as a CEA helping people take the next step in their educational journey. Due to my degrees, my family looks at me differently, with a stronger sense of respect. I love being able to look at my son and see the spark in his eyes for education.
You know how life just keeps happening? You graduate from high school, get a job, have children. Your days are filled with going to work, making dinner, helping with homework. Solving problems. Going to church. Helping friends and family. And you feel like you are slowly sinking in quicksand.
Krystal Baker always wanted to go to college, but life kept getting in the way. She put the needs of her family and her job before everything, including her own dreams. Luckily, she had a friend at work who knew about Krystal’s dream and she nagged her — always asking when Krystal was going to apply to college. One day, her friend told her about a program right in Chester that made it relatively easy for working adults to go to college. She saw a neighbor who was a graduate of the program and thought, “Okay, if he can do it, I can do it.”
Krystal describes what so many people think. “I used to say, I’ll go to school when I’m done with this. And after this is finished. Problem is, there is always another ‘this’. So I went to that college event in fall of 2013. A two hour meeting. It changed my life.”
Krystal graduated in 2015 and enrolled at the Kutz-Lancaster Bible School. “I am going to be a change agent to help people be everything they can be.”
I was released from prison two years ago and had made a decision never to return. I was behind bars for 22 years. Prior to my release, I made a strategic plan for myself and fellow inmates called Ten Steps to Reentry. Gateway to Reentry, the nonprofit I founded, uses the Ten Steps to provide support and education to help people understand how to avoid returning to prison. Gateway to Reentry offers one on one and group mentoring for parolees, a mentor training program, and numerous workshops. To be recognized as a leader in the reentry field and continue building a movement, I recognized the necessity of having higher education credentials. I wanted to learn additional leadership skills and gain legitimacy for my organization and therefore enrolled in the ACE program. I am a Human Services major and a proud member of the class of 2016.
Tracey Fisher was named a 2016 Gamechanger by KYW Newsradio 1060 for his work with Gateway to Reentry. He is one of ten individuals recognized for using his volunteer effort and community influence to make a significant, positive change for people of color in the last year. Learn more
“To educate a person is to educate a whole generation.”
Sarita Grant woke up one morning when the alarm rang at 5:30 AM, just like she did every other day. It was early winter — and cold and she wasn’t looking forward to cleaning cars for the big rental place where she worked. It was hard work in the cold and even worse when it snowed and rained. As she lay in bed imagining her day, Sarita made a sudden decision. “I want more for myself.” She pursued her GED and enrolled in ACE.
Sarita knew it was going to be hard — working and going to classes. “But,” she said, “not having that one piece of paper gets you stuck in dead end jobs and holds you back.” She surprised herself by doing very well in her classes. She enjoys that teachers are truly concerned that students understand the work, succeed in school and achieve all they can. She’s grown to appreciate the challenge. “I want to encourage people like me to try school even if they think it will be hard.”
Besides learning about the subjects required for her degree in Leadership Studies, Sarita says she has learned new things about herself. “Reading has made me an independent thinker. I have changed my way of thinking.”
Sarita graduated in December 2015 and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree at Alvernia University. Her future plans are to open a halfway house for women who are coming out of prison and pursue a master’s degree.
Your parents are in jail. You are expelled from high school because you were in a fight, and your grades were never good to begin with. A lucky break gave you a second chance at high school and you determined to make the best of it, to turn your life around before you followed in the footsteps of people around you who made bad choices, got bad breaks.
This is the story of Luis Lopez, a student in the ACE program. Luis is studying Law and Justice and when he graduates, he plans to work in the criminal justice system. Luis says he has seen too many friends and family members get tangled up in the court system and end up spending too many years of their precious lives locked up. “I want to be a probation officer so I can help guide people to change the direction of their lives. I want to be a role model — my life is proof that anyone of us can turn our lives around.”
While studying for his degree, Luis did an internship at 336 City Hall where he “shadowed” probation officers and experienced the system from an officer’s perspective. Luis earns As and Bs in his courses, has been on the Dean’s List, and works part-time.
“ACE,” he says “has been a gift to me. It’s small, the learning coaches are there to help you stay on track and it’s two days a week. I feel more confident. My family has commented on the change they see in me.”
I came from Puerto Rico in 2002. I spoke little English and didn’t have my high school diploma. Given my challenges with English, I was nervous to enroll in high school but knew I needed to continue my education in order to get a good job. I wanted more than the restaurant and retail jobs I had. I graduated high school in 2011 and I moved directly into the ACE college program. It was on site at the high school so I was comfortable and familiar with the people and the environment.
Soon after enrollment in the college program, my high school offered me a job as a receptionist. This job provided me an opportunity to further develop my English skills and I grew in confidence. I learned a lot in this position. My English improved, I became a better communicator and engaged in the community. As a college student, I mentored fellow students, especially other young women, and gave them advice and encouragement to continue working toward their degrees. I worked as a receptionist through the college program while providing and caring for two young children. Upon graduation with my associate degree, I was promoted to the position of Human Resources Assistant at the high school and am successfully performing this job today.
Once nervous about moving forward with my education, I am proud to be a graduate of the ACE program of Harcum College, class of 2014, and will be enrolling in Temple University this fall to earn my bachelor’s degree.
Most of us have fallen on tough times. A job loss, an injury, the health care needs of loved ones. We find ourselves without sufficient resources to manage a life circumstance and turn to others for help. Some of us view these times as another in a series of negative life events. Some of us choose instead to see them as opportunities to learn.
Tommie Suggs was eager to move to New Orleans and spread his wings as a young adult, but within two years was displaced by hurricane Katrina and returned to Philadelphia. The family sofa became home and welfare an income for a while. Rather than choosing bitterness in response to his displacement, Tommie grew in compassion for others who are struggling and solidified his ambition to become a life coach and serve others. He wanted to find a college degree program that aligned with his goals.
Learning about ACE through his workplace (an ACE partner organization) he enrolled as a Human Services major and takes classes on site after work. Tommie is learning new communication skills, being exposed to a variety of human service careers, and helping fellow students by organizing study groups. He is also cultivating a passion for spoken word and poetry that he discovered in New Orleans. Read “She Cries” here.
“Fear is stifling, but ACE takes the fear out by helping you to reach your goal.”
Tommie was interviewed in his role as a Program Manager with New Beginnings, a nonprofit incubator housed by Resources for Human Development, in the online social news journal Generocity. (December 2016)
Tina White says her purpose in life is to help people. She intervenes in the lives of others because she wants to help them be their best selves, and their lives to be happy and productive. Regardless of the job at hand, she takes time to listen to people — and then she acts. While working as a salesperson at a furniture store, she found out that her elderly customer had a condition called kyphosis. Tina used that information to help the woman choose a chair that would provide the best support for her neck. “It doesn’t matter if I am in a hospital, a store or sitting at the kitchen table talking to friends. When I hear problems, my mind immediately starts searching for solutions. What can I do to make that person more comfortable, less sad, more centered?”
She has worked and succeeded in sales and clerical positions. But she knew she had to find a way to do what she believes is her life’s work to help those in need.
The ACE program was the opportunity she had been waiting for. “I have diverse interests. I’m older. And I have so much to offer. Everything is covered by Human Services. Earning this degree will give me the credentials I need to launch a new career aligned with my true calling, my purpose.”
After 25 years of service, I was laid off from my Administrative Specialist job. 25 years! As an older worker who had not been in the job market for some time, I wasn’t sure where my next position would come from. I quickly learned that earning my college degree was the pathway toward regaining work. I was drawn to the ACE program because it is based in the community. I’ve been a community activist for over 20 years, co-founding a girls mentoring program, coordinating a coalition of other community activists, serving as a block captain and holding positions on two boards of local nonprofit organizations. Understandably, I chose Human Services as my major.
With one more year to go, ACE has already been an encouragement that I can be a successful adult learner. I have outperformed my own expectations and raised my internal standards even higher. As an acknowledgment of my hard work and achievement, I was inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. One of the greatest benefits of attending college is that it has enabled me to influence others to further their education. When I decided to begin college, a friend of mine also applied to Harcum and a colleague decided to enter a Masters Degree program. I am a leader among my peers. My classmates work harder because they see how hard I work. If you want to earn your college degree, I encourage you to go for it through the ACE program. You will be pleasantly surprised by your success.
When she received her high school diploma at the age of 42, Coretta Boone felt a deep sense of accomplishment. And though she has always loved learning new things, she had never thought about college.
“When I started at Harcum, I was worried about being the oldest person in the class. It turns out that my age had nothing to do with being a good student. I love to answer questions in class, I love making presentations. The program affirmed that I am smart and capable, while not being afraid to reveal what I don’t know. The professors don’t expect the students to have all the answers.”
After graduation with her associate’s degree, Coretta will go on to complete a bachelor’s degree.
Coretta attends school full-time and works full-time for SEPTA.
“If it wasn’t for the ACE program, I would not be in college. It has changed my life. It’s changing my kids lives. They see Mom as a student and giving it her all.”
My name is Portia Graham and I am a Leadership Studies graduate of the ACE program with Harcum College and I-LEAD. I knew I wanted to go to college and had tried community college, but the classes and the commute did not fit with my work schedule. I was working as a school bus driver and as an Assistant Manager at a fast food restaurant. With three children all under the age of ten, I didn’t have two more years to wait to train to own a franchise, working all shifts and living paycheck to paycheck. I had a desire to be greater than where I was. I then had a crisis in my personal life and was forced to enter a homeless shelter to escape an abusive relationship. I had to make the hard decision what direction my life was going to go. Speaking with the caseworker at the shelter, I shared my desire for a college education and she mentioned the ACE program where classes took place at a nonprofit right in Coatesville, Life Transforming Ministries. Because ACE has convenient and consistent class schedules in the evenings and classes took place so close to home, there was no commute involved and I was able to work during the day and attend classes in the evening. I was able to balance parenting, self and school. As I began taking my first few classes, my confidence grew and I became involved in my children’s school by joining PTA.
As a student I would come to the site to use the computer lab and would always ask the Site Coordinator a thousand questions about what he does until one day he gave me a task to complete. I then volunteered my time in between work shifts and gained a work study position as a Community Education Advocate spreading the word about the program and the opportunity to earn a degree right in town. I now work full time for Life Transforming Ministries as the Director of Education and am organizing my fellow alumni to advocate for the establishment of a Bachelor’s Degree program in the city of Coatesville.
ACE gave me my life back and the opportunity to spread my wings! ACE has helped me feel empowered and confident in making life decisions. Since ACE I have been a beacon for family members to go back to school. ACE has also helped me understand why education is important and how powerful it can be, and this has spawned my passion for helping others realize the endless opportunities that await them. Most of all ACE has given me a sense of pride to work, go to school and serve in the community in which I live.
Living a creative life does not necessarily mean being good at writing or drawing or making music. Often, living creatively means using your imagination to solve problems, find opportunities, to live your best life.
Cynthia Hughes defies any obstacle put before her. Laid off from work? Sell something in the neighborhood that people want. See unsupervised youth in the neighborhood? Start an organization that engages youth as a team to clean the neighborhood and help neighbors. When you get on your feet? Share your secrets to success; encourage other women to make and sell their own goods.
Cynthia insists that if a person wants to go to college, it can be done. Besides working, Cynthia is a community activist, clothes and greeting card designer, poet who organizes spoken word events and volunteers for Reentry to Recovery.
Fitting college classes into a busy life like Cynthia’s requires careful planning. “I have to make a living but I organize everything around my class schedule. I drive for Uber and I have my own luxury ride business. But I’ve waited a long time to go to college. Classes come first.”
Despite her successes — and high energy, Cynthia was doubtful about her ability to succeed at college. “You don’t think you’re smart enough because you’ve been out of school for so long. But the teachers break it down and we all learn together. My class is like a family. We help each other.”
Helping you take the complicated out of college
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