I grew up in North Minneapolis. My father made the decision to move our family here, from Chicago, when I was 2 ½ years old. The move was an improvement, though we were still living in a poverty stricken home and neighborhood. My family offered love and compassion, they tried hard, but still there were evenings we didn’t know if food would be on the table, much less how to navigate the complexities of the education system.
Early on (around the age of 5), I knew this wasn’t the life I wanted to live in adulthood. I started connecting with people at church and asking about programs and activities. I was always doing something. By age 10, I was an avid and frequent volunteer. Participating in programs and activities allowed me access to necessities – food and snacks, but the involvement also gave me access to positive adult role models. It is with these things, I started to build my foundation. I always kept saying to myself “I’m going to learn as much as possible”.
At 17, I was the only child in my household of six on the path to graduation (with honors) from South High School and dreams of college. This is also the year I became a teen parent. Early in my senior year of high school, I faced a moment where I almost gave up on everything I had worked so hard for. That’s when I met Patty Bledow. Patty worked at Education Talent Search and was an advocate for the Wallin Education Partners Scholarship. She came to my high school in January of my senior year to give a presentation. At the end of the presentation, I went up to her to talk about the future. She asked me about my High School, ACTs, and where I had applied to college. While I had taken my ACT’s I hadn’t submitted any college applications. After hearing more about my story – my academic achievements, lengthy volunteering career, my daughter and my aspirations to attend the University of Minnesota – she started setting goals with me. I was to apply to five colleges that week. I restated my desire that I ONLY wanted to go to the University of Minnesota, and Patty realistically said to me: “sweetie, it’s January and I don’t know if this is going to happen”. She also told me of the Wallin Scholar program and encouraged me to apply. Inspired, I did my part and sent out application after application, and Patty worked tirelessly behind the scenes on my behalf. A month later, I had received my acceptance letter to the University of Minnesota, my school of choice. By having someone like Patty in my life I was really able to disregard my current reality and work with others to reduce barriers to my success and access to funding for a higher education.
I also heard from Wallin Education Partners, I had been accepted as a Scholar. I couldn’t have been more thrilled. I remember my mom holding my letter, reading it and the hope it gave her to have one of her children graduating on time and with honors despite being a teen parent and continuing on to the college of my choice. With the support of Wallin Education Partners and a few other scholarships I was on my way to school. But this wasn’t the end of my story.
During my time in school, I faced some health problems that eventually impacted and pushed out my graduation date. I felt like a failure and I wanted to give up. In this crucial time, Jane Petrich, my Wallin advisor, called to check in on me and we arranged to meet the following morning. Jane saved the day. Not only did her words inspire me to keep going, she worked behind the scenes to obtain additional funding for my school and significantly reduced stressors that allowed me to focus and complete my undergraduate education. I am forever grateful.
Today, I help to “pay it forward” by mentoring young people and families through the complexities of the education system. By day, I am the Director of Community Schools and Partnerships at the Brooklyn Center School District. By night, I am currently working towards my Doctorate degree from St. Mary’s in Education. I don’t think I would be here had I not been fortunate enough to be connected with people – my advisors and mentors – and organizations – like Wallin, that are committed to positively impacting the community and individuals within.
Never give up. Despite adversities, barriers and stressors, there is support out there and you can achieve anything you put your mind to.