You can achieve anything with perseverance, but sometimes we all just need a little help.

This year, I graduated from Walden University with a bachelor’s degree in social work. Besides being a mom to my two young children, it is this accomplishment that I am most proud of attaining. Without the Higher Opportunity for Pathways to Employment program, it would not have been possible.

In 2016, my 2-year-old daughter and I fled from Colorado with a one-way ticket and two suitcases. We had spent the past two years in and out of women’s shelters for domestic violence. Despite the chaotic situation at home, I managed to remain enrolled in a local university, where my scholarships covered the cost of tuition.

When I resettled here in Maine, I transferred to an accredited online university to finish my studies. The transfer added on more time and less help through scholarships. Because of this, I was forced to utilize loans for both tuition and living costs. Those loan payments and the resulting interest added up, but I kept pushing through.

In 2018, after my son was born, it seemed as though anything that could go wrong did. As an infant, he suffered from breathing complications that brought us in and out of the NICU. At that moment, I needed to spend my energy and focus on my two little ones, and I made the difficult decision to take a leave of absence from the online program.

For many others, this was where their education would have ended: with a lot of debt and no degree. As a single mom of two children – and one with medical complications – I didn’t know if it was in me anymore to finish my degree. I knew I needed help, so I reached out to Maine Equal Justice. Without a doubt, that call changed my life.

That’s where I learned about a new program, called HOPE. It was designed to help families like mine pursue training and education beyond high school and achieve their career plans by addressing complicated barriers to success. My application was accepted, and I became one of the first members of the program.

For the first time in my life, I had a wraparound support system, both emotionally and financially. HOPE staff were right there with me to help navigate the challenges, like when I almost couldn’t finish my senior year because of depleted funds. Instead of being faced with more student loans, the team from HOPE helped me find a $4,000 scholarship.

Unfortunately, many students still struggle to make ends meet over the course of their enrollment in HOPE, and some expenses are just not covered. A recent survey of HOPE students showed that 83 percent of respondents have difficulty making ends meet at the end of each month, and 59 percent of them are just $100-$300 short of what they need to make ends meet on their family budget.

But now, as a result of a generous investment by Sara Gideon and the tireless work of the advocates at Maine Equal Justice, that help will be there for participants.

The Build HOPE Project will provide much-needed financial assistance for students in the HOPE and Parents as Scholars programs. When families are faced with costly home or emergency car repairs, or the internet bill they can’t afford, they now have a dedicated fund to turn to. The Build HOPE Project will bridge that gap which can make the difference between success and failure.

I’m proud to say that I graduated at the top of my class, while earning two university awards, being added to two prestigious honor societies and still being able to focus on my children. Being able to model this determination to my children was worth all of it. I was able to turn my life around and chart my own path to success. As a result of hard work, perseverance, a little help and the Build HOPE Project, there will be many more stories like mine in Maine’s future.


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