Michael Johnson Yvonne Garner Rick Himmons Luis Oqendo Kimberly Mitchell Kimberly Lowe Keith Colquitt Julia Capese Janice Saunders Emaline Baronofsky Desiree Neal Anthony Banks Sheila Mixson KC Drayton Jose Ramirez Patricia Donnelly

My name is Sheila Mixson.  I am very grateful to have been connected to Graduate! Philadelphia and the various supportive services provided through them.  I was previously successful when attending college, but I encountered some difficult life circumstances that occurred all around the same time. My children's school work also had become more challenging and they required more time and assistance. For these reasons I had to discontinue my classes. The more time that had lapsed since I was in school gave me more doubt about returning. I was very concerned about starting over. I had worked so hard to earn credits and I thought they may not transfer because of the time span.
 
While I was unemployed, I learned about Graduate! Philadelphia at CareerLink. I was given encouragement about returning from the initial meeting. The young lady I met with was also returning to school for graduate studies. She expressed sincerity and concern. She gave me information, and helped me set up a meeting with a school advisor. I am now a full time student at Chestnut Hill College and on the Dean's List. 
 
Not only did Graduate! help with this re-enrollment process, they have been a great resource with the free workshops that they provide. They routinely share information on employment opportunities as well.  In addition to all this support, I was a fortunate recipient of a scholarship I applied for through Graduate!.

I encourage those of you who are still contemplating this step of continuing your education to speak to a representative of Graduate! Philadelphia, and see how barriers to this goal can be overcome.

May 16, 2014. Commencement day, the culmination of all my hard work was about to be celebrated with all my family and friends. I processed in with my fellow Arcadia students, my emotions were on overdrive.  I had such a sense of pride in my accomplishments. As my name was called, I walked across the stage to shake hands with the president of Arcadia University and receive my long awaited diploma. Graduate! Philadelphia was very much on mind as this would have not been a reality without them in my corner.

My journey started as a youth out of high school at Beaver College.  My freshman year did not go as planned. I met a boy and got pregnant. I attended Community College part time for as long as I could. Family obligations and full time employment derailed those dreams for 28 years.

My eldest child graduated from Temple University, I was beaming with pride at his accomplishments. My dream of academic fulfillment was very present that day, but how could this be done? I needed to break down the barriers that were preventing this from happening.  It came in 2009 when I attended an informational meeting at my younger children's school. Neumann University had sent representatives to talk to adults who wished to return to college. I heard for the first time about online learning and accelerated programs that could actually work in my hectic life. Finances still proved to be the challenge.

It was also during this meeting that I heard about Graduate! Philadelphia and the help they had provided other adult learners in transitioning them back to college. I was intrigued and made an appointment.  The staff was amazing in helping me find the resources that were available. They informed me of a scholarship called My Degree Now, being offered by Community College. I qualified by fitting all criteria needed. I was in good standing to complete my Associate’s Degree in Liberal Arts/ Behavioral Health concentration. The excuse of affordability was gone, but could I be a successful learner?  I took a leap of faith and in 2009 I received my diploma graduating with distinguished honors.  I was amazed that I was able to juggle all aspects of my hectic life.

Arcadia University was to be the next phase of my journey. The classes and professors were amazing in both my online classes as well as the traditional classroom setting. My Global Learning experience semester took me to our local prison. The course was called Inside/Out and half my class were inmates. What they said opened my eyes to a group of individuals that society continually punishes even after release. The class made a huge impact in my life, and as a career choice I would love to work with re-integration programs that work with to ex-offenders. Social policy needs to be challenged and revised and I would love to be a part of this change. I now have so many possibilities now that I have my Bachelor’s Degree.  Maybe graduate school for my Master's in Social Work?  One thing I know is that Graduate! Philadelphia will be there to guide me.

I believe that I was meant to complete my academic journey at this stage of my life. It has been a faith journey, my miracle thanks to Graduate! Philadelphia. I know that they will continue serving Philadelphians like me for many decades to come. Please remember an educated population makes for a more vibrant and successful Philadelphia.

I wish that you could just see how wonderful you all look from my vantage point.  Graduate! Philadelphia helped me create what I describe as a defining moment, a moment that changed my life!

In 2009, after I moved back to Philadelphia to help take care of my older, handicapped brother and ailing mother, I found myself underemployed. I ended up at the PA CareerLink seeking job assistance and training. The counselors there stress education and training for a competitive advantage in the job market. Thanks to the staff at CareerLink, I secured two federal jobs in 5 months. Then came the educational part that CareerLink knew I needed to advance in my government position. They told me to call Graduate! Philadelphia.

I started my college journey many years ago but lost my way due to the usual road blocks…job loss, divorce or illness. Graduate! Philadelphia guided me back on the right path by setting educational goals. I started in 2010 knowing when I wanted to reach the end of that journey, June 2014. My biggest road block came earlier this year during my final semester when I loss both my younger brother and mother in February. Thanks to the outstanding support and encouragement from Graduate! Philadelphia and Peirce College, I stayed on course and created that defining moment on June 9th, graduating with honors, elected member of Delta Mu Delta International Honor Society and Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges.

By the way I was mistaken. I already set a new goal for myself, an M.B.A.

 

 

Since I began my studies at Philadelphia University in the Accelerated Degree Program in September 2012, the program has provided me with exemplary educational and practical experiences that are very important at this time in my professional career. I am delighted to be part of an educational organization that has provided me with the tools to be successful in today’s industrial world.

I have wanted to get my bachelors’ degree in behavioral science in order to have more opportunities to grow personally and professionally in the helping field.  I had to wait a long time to go to college, because English was my second language. It took me 5 years, while working full time as a behavioral health assistant, to obtain my Associate’s Degree at Community College.  I had to take beginning level English classes through the ESL program, in order to develop my reading, writing, critical thinking and communication skills to the level where I could advance to a degree program.  During this time, I felt like I was in prison, because I was unable to communicate at the level I wanted to in my profession, and I had to struggle to learn how to write effectively in the language. My professors encouraged me to keep going, because they saw my ability to express myself verbally and thus my potential to write. When I was able to master the skills to communicate more fluently and effectively in the English language, and effectively analyze texts and write papers, I was then able to take the next step and begin advanced level of studies. This was a tremendous personal accomplishment for me, because I had to develop a whole new way of thinking, writing and communicating - in a culture context that was new to me and utterly different from anything I had experienced in my life until then.

Growing up in El Salvador, my family instilled in me core values, thathelped me persevere in this cross cultural educational adventure. I was raised to be determined, to always do my best, value my time, value education, respect my classmates and professors in order to perform valuable work in my academic studies. In every classin the Accelerated Degree Program at Philadelphia University, I have been challenged because I had to read, perform professional academic research and discuss scholarly articles, create PowerPoints and give classroom presentations.I greatly enjoyed the small class room setting and level of cultural diversity in the program.  I found the experience of working with classmates from diverse cultures and perspectives priceless in developing my understanding of myself and others from different cultures and honing my skills in cultural awareness and sensitivityas a professional in the behavioral health field.

It was a great learning experience to work in collaboration with classmates in doing in-depth case analysis that immensely assisted and prepared me for today’s business environment. I was grateful for the tutoring department because the staff greatly assisted me in editing some of my research case analysis assignments.I really enjoyed my classes, my classmates and the excellent professors that presented stimulating lectures that addressed real issues pertinent to the behavioral health field. The assignments always were a challenge but at the end of this course of study, I have gained priceless educational knowledge. 

I am proud to say that I have attained a Bachelor of Science degree at Philadelphia University.  My educational experience at Philadelphia University has transformed my life. I have gained the skills to be effectively prepared as a professional individual in today’s business world. I have developed invaluable educational insights that have assisted me in understanding cultural differences in a social context and who I have become on this journey of cross cultures.

Graduate! Philadelphia greatly assisted and supported me to reach my education goal.  Thank you very much for your professional support!  I feel that it is never too late to go back to school!

 

Luis Oqendo

Let me start by saying that my journey with Graduate! Philadelphia has been amazing. Graduate! Philadelphia is known for assisting adults in returning back to school. Even though that was not my case they did not turn me away. This would actually be my first time ever in college. They have helped me with my financial aid process, my application fee, tips on do's and don'ts with insider experience, and so much more.

Allow to me to elaborate on the above. They helped me acquire my financial aid and made it such a smooth process. My application fee was waived because of my involvement with Graduate! Philadelphia. Now, when I say insider experience, I mean the years of knowledge this team brings to the table. I was informed of things to avoid such as how to save money on books by buying out of pocket and not to use school vouchers, which would cost me retail prices.

Graduate! Philadelphia's team come from or are well connected with individuals who have gone, are going to or even work at schools. The same schools we as students will be looking into. To add to all of this they even host workshops which are great ways to manage our lives and even network with others in the same shoes as us. Graduate Philadelphia was there in helping me with what I did not know and in helped me with alternatives with the things I did. To add to all of this, the service was at no cost. I think anyone who wishes to pursue a higher education should seek out the services of this great organization. it would be one of the best decisions you will make to better your personal life as well as your career. Thank you Graduate! Philadelphia.

 

Desiree Neal

Graduate! Philadelphia Comebacker Desiree Neal is a Philadelphia native who grew up in a family of singers and entertainers, and was destined to be a star in her own right. Some may know her by her on-air personality, “Dezzie” at Praise 103.9FM. Desiree is approaching her second year returning to college, has maintained a 3.45 GPA, and plans to graduate in May of 2015.

This tale consists of two parts: Desiree Neal, a Graduate! Philadelphia Comebacker, and “Dezzie” the 103.9FM Inspiration Station radio personality.

Desiree first attended college at Delaware State University. It was a great experience, but she admits to being “side-tracked by her love of cosmetology.” It wasn’t until her mother became very ill that she left college. She could not care for her mother and effectively manage her studies.

At that point, Desiree decided to drop out of college. Her first experience – like so many other adults who stop out – was not due to lack of talent or ambition, but split focus and unexpected life events.

What Desiree didn’t realize until much later as an adult trying to return to school, was that her GPA had been a 3.89. This was a real blow, because being informed about her academic status may have given her the determination to persevere.

When her mother recovered, Desiree decided to capitalize on the cosmetology skills that kept her afloat at Delaware State. She enrolled in Berean Institute believing that this would help her to harness her passion. After that, she explored the mortgage industry and decided to put cosmetology school to the side. Her success in mortgage lending kept her interest until she dealt with reduced commission and the onset of predatory lending practices. Dezzie’s disapproval with the mortgage industry allowed her to find “the fire that never went out.” She obtained a position working as an HIV/AIDS Activist and later for Philabundance.

For ten years, Dezzie continued in social work. Her professional background in social work was the catalyst to returning to school.She admits, “I wasn’t set on going back to college, but I had a co-worker (Mr. Graham) who made education a priority. He noticed my potential and told me I needed a plan. He was the one who sent me to Graduate! Philadelphia.”

“That was the day that changed my life.” Dezzie stated that not having her degree is the reason she stayed in entry-level positions. It prevented her from advancing, even when she excelled and had more expertise than those who supervised her. Dezzie reflected on her experience with the Graduate! Philadelphia program and stated, “It was great. It is the best-kept secret! My counselor made the college-application process an easy feat.”

“I was very anxious and Graduate! Philadelphia minimized my anxiety with going back to school and helped me manage the extreme.” Dezzie also received assistance with completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Now she is the college expert. Dezzie considered Human Services and ministry because she wanted to put a biblical spin on Social Work. She is finishing her last year with The Center for Urban Theological Studies. In May 2015, she will graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Human Services with a Biblical minor. “Going back to college as an adult has been amazing. I am qualified and have receivednothing lower than an A or B.”

Dezzie ’s career as an amateur singer changed to an artist after being discovered at a Christian Cafe Open Mic. From there she recorded her two projects Here I Am, which tackled youth issues and Dying Daily… A Journey Through Spiritual Growth. She shies away from the holier-than-thou image people usually conjure when they think of a minister. To date, she has graced the same stages as many respected gospel perfomers including Gabriel Hardeman, Tye Tribbett and Greater Anointing, Hezekiah Walker, Shirley Caesar, and Mary Mary. She has even worked alongside well respected radio personalities such as Ed Long (WDAS) and Don Juan Banks (Power 99 FM) and has also contributed to projects ranging from stage play soundtracks, hosting, and city-wide events including Penn’s Landing Summer Concert Series, Unity Day and United States Conference on AIDS. Through it all, she has remained humble and steadfast.

Dezzie expressed her faith and stated that with God, all things are possible. For other adults who are on the fence, she referenced Nike’s famous slogan, JUST DO IT. “Do not make excuses. You can excuse yourself to death. Stand up and walk, just try. I was whipped into shape and frustrated. Nothing changed until I made a move.”

Outside of hosting a popular radio show, Dezzie is fortunate to encourage other people to restart their college journey. “You’re never too old to go back to school. I’m happy to graduate before my children. The station is also in full support of my return to school and I even do all the commercials for my school.”

Graduate! Philadelphia thanks Dezzie for sharing her story and continuing to be a model of inspiration in all aspects of her life.

Emaline Baronofsky

Graduate Philadelphia!  Where would I be today if it were not for this organization?

I was out of work and indecisive of my next course of action. I went to an open house offered by Graduate Philadelphia and found an open door leading to answers to my future. I liked the fact that they did not favor one school over another, but focused on my needs and how they could help me reach my goals.

I spent most of my adult life working and attending classes on an extremely sporadic basis.  So, thirty years later, I still had not completed my degree.  At the open house I met Kristopher Scott, an advisor at Graduate! Philadelphia.  He was very informed about the colleges in the Philadelphia area and very generous with sharing this information.  We met a few times and he was instrumental in helping me plan my return to school.

I am currently attending Peirce College and have less than 10 classes to complete for my BA degree.  Without the support of Graduate Philadelphia and the staff at Peirce, I do not feel I would be this close to reaching this goal. 

Kimberly Mitchell

My journey began in 1987 when I first started college at Temple University. I was a mediocre student but always felt drawn to the field of communications. As an Advertising major, I enjoyed being creative. However, the other classes were not very interesting to me. I fell short in attaining the minimum requirements to maintain a required grade point average. I was informed that I couldn’t enroll in any more classes. I was devastated.

Fast forward to 1995, I decided that I would go back to school to redo those core classes that I fell short in achieving a minimum grade of C or higher. I enrolled in Community College of Philadelphia. My focus was that I wouldobtain nothing less than an A in those classes. After taking 6 classes, I was successful in achieving A’s in all of them. This was truly motivating and I aspired to continue with my goals. However, life set me in on a different path. My husband and I had our first child in 1996. A year and a half after I started back at school. I continued with classes until I was no longer able to maintain the rigorous schedule of working full time and going to school. Due to pregnancy restrictions, I was placed on bed rest prior to my delivery. That put finishing my degree on hold for 5 more years.

The next step toward finishing my degree was in 2001. After our second child was born, I felt the desire to finally finish that degree that I started in 1987. I enrolled an accelerated degree program at The University of Phoenix. Having two children, working full time, and a husband that travelled every other week made it difficult to continue with the program. I received an A in the first class that I taken but had to withdraw. Once again, I was disappointed that I could not continue with my goal.

After reaching a low point in my self esteem and career goals in 2012, I decided that 2013 would be the year for a new improved version of me. I was in a position that I did not enjoy and felt as though I had reached a glass ceiling. I was not able to move forward without acquiring my degree. On our internal website at my employer Independence Blue Cross, I read a notice regarding a program that was offered to all associates. Graduate Philadelphia was a program that helped adults to finish their degrees. This was a sign. After discussing my goals with my family, I made an appointment to speak with a counselor to get started. Since I had earned at least 80-90 course credits in my past college experiences, I was a closer to completing my degree than I had realized.  My counselor help me to find the right match for my needs and assisted in getting me started in the right program.

I’m currently in my fourth semester at Thomas Edison State College. It is an online program that I can access on my own time. It is flexible and allows me to schedule time to focus on my studies. Online courses are not for everyone.  In order to meet my goals of being an A student and keep up with the course requirements, I had to learn to discipline myself with a set schedule for studies. The first semester was very overwhelming but once I got started in my routine, it became much easier. Without a routine, it would be difficult to keep up with assignments. Reading the syllabus and due date calendar is very important ensure that assignments are submitted on time.  My counselor has checked in with me every few months to see how things are going and to ensure that I’m still on track with my goals. He has offered assistance in helping me with different seminars that are available through Graduate Philadelphia. This experience has been truly rewarding.

In 2014, I will have 12 credits left to finish my degree. I’m very excited about obtaining a Bachelor of Arts in Communications. I’ve worked for over 20 years to get to here and I’m looking forward to celebrating my success with my family and friends. Without the support of my husband and children, I would not have been able to achieve my goals. I am truly thankful for the Graduate Philadelphia program for helping me get there. This experience has made me understand that even though we are presented with challenges in our daily lives, our goals and dreams are attainable. We just have to be sure to persevere and keep our focus on that goal.

Janice Saunders

The staff at Graduate! Philadelphia as well as the instructors and advisors at Neumann University offered me continuous encouragement, critical positive reviews and rewarding information.  After I received my Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts, I changed careers from secretarial/administrative duties to my first dream of coaching and tutoring women to become self-sufficient in mind, body, and soul.

Mayor Nutter, on February 3, 2009, clearly articulated my thoughts and how I feel about adults achieving their fullest educational potential when he stated, “we must encourage our city’s young people and adults to reach higher and get their college degrees. Their academic achievement is important to their own lives and our community as a whole.” At that moment Graduate! Philadelphia’s information flashed on the screen. That’s when I knew I needed to contact them.

In spite of having received two associates degrees; the first in Business Management, the second in Early Childhood Education I continued to feel incomplete. However, enrolling at Neumann University was challenging but the awarding of my Bachelor’s degree broke the stigma I was experiencing by not having a full degree.

One of the greatest challenges was the distance to Neumann’s main campus from my home in Northwest Philadelphia and my fulltime job with the School District of Philadelphia.  Neumann is located in Delaware County.  Their main campus which all undergraduates must attend is in Ashton, PA.  I attended the main campus for two years in the evening from 6PM-10PM two nights per week.

Initially, I drove 45 minutes to one hour each way until my car broke down midway through the second semester.  I didn’t have the money to repair the car.  I had a big decision to make.  How would I get to school? Was I dedicated and strong enough to continue?  I had no choice but to continue on the journey to complete my quest for a Bachelor’s Degree.  My only recourse was to use SEPTA ground and regional rail line,  Now I was twice as nervous as I was when I drove from Northwest Philadelphia to I-95 trying different routes, stuck in traffic, looking out for the state police and crazy drivers.  My travel time increased to two hours each way.  I rode from a bus in Northwest Phila, to the regional rail line in Center City to Chester, PA where I boarded the only bus going directly into Neumann’s main campus.

I often felt like the postman traveling through rain, sleet or snow to succeed in my journey to complete my college education and I did all the way to my Master’s!

With Mayor Nutter’s words in mind and G!P’s encouragement, I returned to Neumann University and enrolled in their Graduate Education Program.  I received my Master of Science in Education in March 2013.  My family was ecstatic and I was happy, proud and joyous that my degree journey was complete.

My name is Michael Johnson. I’m a non-traditional, 43-year-old graduating student in the Accelerated Behavioral Health and Science Program at Philadelphia University. It was not an easy decision to come back to school. Balancing family life, a full-time job and other numerous responsibilities, school seemed like a gigantic undertaking. And as you know, it was.

However, from the moment I started my first class, I became inspired. I was inspired by my family, because without their love and constant support, I wouldn’t be standing here. I was inspired by my instructors, they opened my mind to new worlds and possibilities. I became inspired by my fellow students. To work with so many different types of people on such a variety of projects greatly expanded my social and personal skills. I’ve truly made good friends.

I experienced countless hours of study groups, numerous sleepless nights worrying about exams, missing birthday parties lost time with friends and family, but it was worth the sacrifice.

During my first semester, my nephew who had graduated high school years earlier, started asking questions about what it was like coming back to school after so many years, like are you the oldest in the class? Are the exams really hard? After several conversations and encouraging words, he made a choice to go back to school.

In that moment I realized that my educational journey is not mine alone. My educational journey affects people. We are living proof that it can be done whether you’re fresh out of high school or approaching retirement.

I chose to be an example in my community by sharing the limitless benefits of education. We can be that bridge for someone to reach their educational goals.

I have been trying to get back to school to complete my degree since 2005. I didn’t know which school to attend, what area to study, or how I would pay for it. All I knew was that I wanted to go back and finish this time. I attended countless college fairs, and I was searching online to find out how to do this and who to talk to, but there is much less information on going to college directed towards adult students than there is for traditional-age students. No one would really help me.

Luckily, one day there was a presentation by Graduate! Philadelphia in the office where I work. I work for the Revenue Department of the City of Philadelphia. I met a Graduate! Philadelphia advisor there and he’s been stuck with me for the past year!

I was an animal science major when I started school the first time and wanted initially to go back to that field of study.My advisor did tons of research to find out how I could continue those studies while still working fulltime but there just wasn’t a program that fit these criteria, so I decided to change my major and look into accounting and business management. I’m a science and math person so I’m now sticking with the math one, and it is truly what I now want. I know it’s going to work.

CCP has a really good business administration program, plus my Graduate! advisor and the Community College of Philadelphia advisor thought I would be a good candidate for CCP’s MyDegreeNow scholarship. To apply for it, you have to have been out of school for two years, have at least 30 transferable credits and a certain GPA from past courses. I met all of those criteria so I applied, and then I got it! The scholarship covers all of my tuition and main expenses for an Associates’ from CCP.

I just registered for class. It was the best registration ever.  I have never been so excited to register for classes as I was the other day. I would not have been able to find out about this opportunity or how to go through the process of going back to school if it wasn’t for Graduate! Philadelphia. They helped me with every step I had to take to get here. I am so grateful they are here, and for this incredible opportunity.

 

Anthony Banks

When I told a former co-worker that I would really like to go back to school, she highly recommended the Graduate! Philadelphia program. She told me that they were located near the Gallery mall in center city Philadelphia and that they would help me with applying for financial aid and provide other valuable assistance – and their services were free!  If Graduate! Philadelphia provided that one service alone, I would have been extremely grateful.  All of the procedures involved with applying for financial aid were more intimidating to me than returning to La Salle University after my decades of absence.

I watched the Graduate! Philadelphia video on their website and I was instantly impressed and inspired.  It felt good to know that this organization existed to help adults like myself who wanted to return to school, but who are unsure of how to make it happen.  When I called, I talked to a wonderful person named Sarah Byker James.  We talked about my goals and she told me how Graduate! Philadelphia could help me.  I made an appointment to meet her.  There were many, very real, factors to consider, including balancing a full-time job with school work and the lack of encouragement from someone in my life, but when I thought it was impossible, Sarah helped me to sort things out.  With Graduate! Philadelphia’s help, I had begun!

My return to school was both emotional and dramatic.  I was amazed at the joy I felt just walking on campus again to my first class – and soon I was amazed also at how unexpected challenges could hit so soon.  I had a potentially major conflict with an instructor.  I called Graduate! Philadelphia.  Sarah told me previously that if I had issues with teachers, she would be willing to help in any way she could.  I can’t tell you the relief I felt knowing that was true and being able to tell Sarah what had happened.  So much changes when you know someone is on your side and wants victory for you.  It is so much easier to regain your sense of balance and peace of mind.

Sarah listened with a very sympathetic ear and voiced just what I was thinking, “You do not need this in your first week back!”  Sarah proceeded to calm me down and coached me through writing a forthright, yet tactful, e-mail to my Professor.  She reminded me to include in the e-mail that I had looked forward to this class, which made what happened even more startling.  With Sarah’s help, I ended the e-mail in such a way that it invited his reply, without assumption on my part.  The Professor replied to me apologizing sincerely, and then he apologized to the whole class because the issue affected all of us.  This could have easily gone in another direction if I didn’t have Sarah at Graduate! Philadelphia to lean on for help and I let Sarah know it!  This was just one of many times that Graduate! Philadelphia helped me in many ways.

Another example is the excellent seminar that Laticia Booker presented at Graduate! Philadelphia which helped me with the inevitable increase in stress levels.  But as Laticia showed us, there were solutions for this as well.

Don’t think it’s too late. When I came to Graduate! Philadelphia for help, I had been out of school for decades and they helped me to graduate. There was a lot to be done, including lining up the financing then balancing a full-time job with school work, but it made all the difference that I did not have to go on this journey alone.  I cannot describe the exhilaration that my graduation from college made me feel, then and now!  I also joined the team of Advisors at Graduate! Philadelphia, helping other adults achieve their college education goals. 

So if you are thinking about returning to school, don’t focus on all the reasons why you, or others, think you can’t.  Contact Graduate! Philadelphia and let us help you see a variety of solutions and all the reasons why you can! Don’t put off your dreams. Don’t postpone your joy. You’ve waited long enough.

Yvonne Garner

I completed my Associates from the Community College of Philadelphia and this fall I’m attending Chestnut Hill College to get my bachelors degree in Human Services.  Then I want to continue on to get my masters.  Ultimately, I want to open my own nonprofit organization that focuses on helping those who are suffering from drug and alcohol addictions and other debilitating issues that prevent them from being all that they can be.

I work for the City of Philadelphia License and Inspections, in the Streets Department.  A few months ago coworkers suggested that I talk to the city employee liaison for the Mayor’s Office of Education.  She gave me Graduate! Philadelphia’s card.   I called and came in for an appointment with Laticia Booker.  The environment was really open and friendly and very professional.  I told her what I had done and where I wanted to go and Tish got things rolling immediately.

At Graduate! Philadelphia I met with April Fowlkes, the advisor from Chestnut Hill College who is a very positive person and who encouraged me throughout the process.  After meeting with April I was ready to apply.  Now, the only thing holding me back is the financial aspect.  I’m unable to get Pell, PHEAA or loans right now because my account is flagged in the financial aid system for pending default on previous loans.  I have over $40,000 of loans from my first try at college twenty years ago.  They have been in deferment but now I have to work out a payment plan or try to consolidate them with new loans.

Once that is taken care of though, I will be eligible for Pell and PHEAA grants, and through my job I get 25% off tuition.  Plus, since I graduated from CCP with a GPA above 3.5, I am also eligible for a 25% discount.  I’m trying to use both discounts, but they may only let me use one.

Tish has also helped me find and apply for private scholarships.  I recently was awarded the Richard Ash scholarship, which is $4,000.  Writing my essay for the scholarship was therapeutic in itself, and it motivated me even more to get my degree.  When I found out that I got it, that I was a Richard-A scholar, I bawled my eyes out.  I’m 42 years-old and I’m a scholar?  I was so happy I called Tish up and asked her to join me at the scholarship reception.  I can’t wait until I have enough money to donate back to the Richard Ash scholarship fund to help another person coming up behind me.

What I have learned in this process is that you have to be self-disciplined to get where you want to go.  And I learned that hope is real.  You have to surround yourself with positive, genuine people.  You can’t remain a victim for the rest of your life.  When you become free from the past and take responsibility for life, everything opens up for you.  You are no longer bound to what happened.  You are free.

Kimberly Lowe

I started going to Temple University in 1989 but had to leave to help out at home when my father passed and my mother was ill.  To help with money I took a job as a Philadelphia Corrections Officer.

Almost twenty years later, I walked into Graduate! Philadelphia.  I was supporting my friend Mataz Hall who wanted to go back to school.  We ended up sitting down with an advisor from Chestnut hill College, and by the end of the meeting I was signing up to apply for admission.

Everything fell into place after that.  I entered the fulltime accelerated program at Chestnut Hill College in August 2008 and graduated in December 2010.  The transition back to school was not as stressful as I thought it would be.  It was hard as I struggled medically and academically during my first semester, but the help and support from Chestnut Hill College and Graduate! Philadelphia made it manageable.

My first semester here I got a C in sociology.  I decided to not let that discourage me but to use that as motivation to go after what I really wanted.  I ended up graduating Summa Cum Laude, and with membership in three honor societies: Alpha Sigma Lambda (National Honor Society for Adult Learners); Delta Epsilon Sigma (National Scholastic Honor Society for Colleges with a Catholic Tradition); and Psi Chi (International Honor Society in Psychology).  I want to eventually practice holistic psychology, which involves motivational therapy for individuals and organizations.

When I graduated, I wanted to celebrate with my nine-year-old daughter and with my whole community.  So many people have been a part of this experience.  I felt like the degree belonged to all of us, so I created a banner that I hung outside of my home.  It read "Thank you God!  Through You, all things are possible.  Finally I am a College Graduate!  To mom- I kept my word.  I miss you dearly and love you always.  To my daughter, you inspired me to do this.  I am grateful and so proud of you.  To my family, friends, and neighbors, thanks for being my "village."  I share my joy with you.  At 39 years old, it's never too late. What a phenomenal journey!"

I gained far more than a degree from this.  I gained self confidence, a better image of myself and connections with amazing, positive people.

What I would say to others who are starting this journey is to think about what excites you, what lights you up and go after it.   I'd say that your concerns are normal, that the hardest step is the first, and that if you go after personal satisfaction and fulfillment your grades will follow.  You have to encourage yourself and believe that you will graduate.

Keith Colquitt

I had been unemployed for several years due to a back injury I got from my last (highly paid) job.  I took a job as a school janitor to pay the bills, but it was at such low pay, with no benefits, and was far from being my dream job that I realized I had to make a change.  I don’t want to take another entry level job; I want to do more meaningful work.  So I got the ball rolling to go back to school. 

I was also very inspired by Barak Obama.  He had dropped out of college.  Like me, he was not enjoying it the first time around and wasn’t applying himself to the work.  But a little later he straightened up and went back to Columbia undergrad and then Harvard grad school.

When I came to Graduate! Philadelphia, I didn’t have a computer or internet at home, so I was able to use their computers to do internet searches and fill out online forms.  Working with them, I was able to waive application fees, and start to figure out what I wanted to study and pursue career-wise.

At the Graduate! Philadelphia center, I met with the advisor from Chestnut Hill College.  I had a good interview with her, liked what I heard about the college and liked that it was near where I was living.  But then, when I was about to leave, an advisor from Penn State Abington approached me and told me that they had a program that offered exactly what I was looking for.  We spoke further and then I knew it was a good fit.  It was a real gift to have the opportunity to speak with both representatives.  Just those conversations helped motivate me further to keep going since there were people who were interested in helping me get to where I wanted to go in life.

I now have a 3.97 GPA (got my first B last semester) and am really enjoying my classes.  It’s fulfilling to be back in school.  In my former job, I was treated as though I didn’t have much of a brain or I would be asked for ideas and input and never given credit.  I feel more confidence now knowing I can still do good work in school and get good grades.  I was even just invited to join the Penn State honors program, which offers scholarship money every semester.  Hopefully, this will help me be able to study abroad this fall in England or in Sweden next Spring.

Finding the money to go to school has been and continues to be the biggest challenge for me.  This is the last semester that I can use the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) grant to help cover tuition since I had used PHEAA money the first time I went to college.  I’m taking out loans and pursuing scholarships to cover the costs, but each semester it’s still a challenge.  My financial aid officer and Graduate! Philadelphia advisor have been doing all they can to help me identify scholarships.

When I had to stop working due to my back, it was a blessing in disguise.  Now I can finally start doing something worthwhile.  I wish I had turned my life around years ago to pursue other interests I had, like medicine.  But I’m glad to now have a chance to do something useful; to secure a job with a path, not a dead end.

 

Rick Himmons

I got tired of working retail so I decided to go back to school and get my bachelors degree.  I want to expand my skills and then be able to put them to good use.

I was drawn to Peirce College for their business school.  Other colleges in the area do not put as much emphasis on business education, or they have a broader focus.  Peirce is oriented towards business and offers a number of different specialized business degrees, and they offer accelerated programs.  After I graduate next year I hope to work for the government.

I first heard about Graduate! Philadelphia from a TV commercial where Mayor Nutter mentioned the new adult education initiatives in the city.   I came in and Graduate! Philadelphia got the ball rolling right away.  With their help I was able to transfer in my past credits from CCP and Temple, and apply for federal loans to pay for tuition and books.

Graduate! Philadelphia is a very hands-on type of organization, they will help you in every way possible to go back to school.  But you have to have tenacity to stay with it, push for it.  It won’t just fall into your pocket.

Going back and getting a degree to get a better job is not so much about the money for me, it’s about getting a job that I can really contribute to and make a difference in.  It’s less a question about money and more of what are you going to do in life?