Marie's Story - written by Maria Navaez, Board Member
I haven’t been to the Lynn Public Library in over 20 years so when a pleasant voice suggested that be our meeting place for an interview, I thought it was perfect. I have never met this student, but what I left with was a story of strength and perseverance. I arrived early and waited to interview my first student.
Marie, a native of Haiti and currently working on her HiSet, greeted me with a big smile and warm hug. The first comment she made was, “I hope you can understand my English.” Clearly this was something new for both of us but our goal of spreading awareness of Pathways and the amazing things the program does for students kept us focused, we found a desk by a window and began the interview.
My first question was about her challenges of attending an intense adult English education program. “Scary” she says to me. “To come to a country and not know the language is scary. Things change all the time. I knew I had to learn English to do something. I saved and saved so I could take CNA classes. The teachers at Pathways taught me strategies on how to pass and they helped me practice for interview. Teachers also supported me as I’ve gotten my driver’s license and been certified to administer medication.”
During our conversation, Marie shared that she is a breast cancer survivor. “Who was I going to complain to? The teachers helped me. I lived in the computer lab and researched. I practiced my vocabulary and spelling to keep my mind busy. When I was down, my teachers told me, ‘don’t cry. Play your music.’ They kept me awake. Some days I cried. Some days I laughed and danced to music.” Still she pushed through and attended her classes even during chemotherapy.
I asked of her hopes, dreams and what she sees as her next chapter. “This year I am working hard on my HiSet. I will continue my studies for work. I dream of having my family together. My teachers helped me to learn Skype. I can see my family and we help each other with homework and studies. I teach them and they teach me. “
As I sat and listened I couldn’t help but wonder how someone who battled cancer, worked, attended classes while being separated from her family for over 8 years could be so genuinely positive and happy? Her energy and smile are simply inspiring. I asked her what advice she would give to current and future students, “You have to learn English to do something and to do better. Pathways is a community, a family. Family is important and teachers are family. Everything you want to do, you can do with Pathways.”
Update: in 2016 Marie successfully completed her HiSET tests and received her diploma!
“When you’re undocumented, you feel stuck. I wanted more than what was in front of me.” - armed with her High School diploma, Angelica refused to let obstacles in her way. Graduated from Pathways and with the continued support of the teachers Angelica has succesfully completed Associates Degree majoring in Business.
It began when she was helping her sisters’ sign up for Pathways for ESOL when she saw information about college prep and work readiness; thinking of her future as well as her disabled child she decided to enter the program for herself. “You have to be dedicated and work hard. Anything can be overcome.” In time teachers quickly realized that this young lady was ready for college and began assisting her with the college application process which brought Endicott College as her next venture.
Being undocumented did not allow her to receive financial aid assistance this was yet another obstacle that Pathways helped her prevail. Funds were raised and she had the opportunity to attend one class and the rest is history.
Now she is working, studying, paying for school on her own and closer to reaching her goal of a Bachelor’s Degree. With the continued support, feedback, tutoring this Pathways Alumni student continues to excel. “With so many hurdles I could have gave up but Pathways was behind me and encouraged me to believe in myself.”
I asked her where she sees herself in the future and of her inspirations, “I am thinking of possibly opening a non-profit organization for parents with disabled children to help parents begin or finish with their education. When raising disabled children parents often focus so much on the child they forget about themselves. I owe where I am now to Pathways.”
* Name changed to protect the individual
Sam Doeun arrived in the United States from Cambodia when he was 2 years old. He and his family came to Wisconsin where they stayed for a couple of years before moving to the North Shore. During high school, Sam fell in with the wrong crowd and he ended up dropping out four months before graduation.
“I’m at Pathways to make it better for my family,” says Sam. He has two boys, 8 and 11 years old. “Right now I work full time, second shift. I get up at six, take my kids to school and come straight here. I leave here and go straight to work and work until 2AM. That’s my life right now.” Sam works as a formulator making adhesive for manufacturing. He’s been working at this job for eleven years and he sees no future in it. “I want to support my family.”
Sam has his sights set on a degree in Electrical Engineering, but he can’t get in until he’s completed his HiSet (GED). “I started at Pathways this fall and it’s been pretty good! There are a lot of good people here and they are very enthusiastic and motivating. I’m going to finish my high school certificate, and then get certified as an electrician and probably get my associates degree.”
Quendia came to the US 15 years ago, alone, in search of a better economic future. She had finished her certificate in Business Administration in Guatemala but had no job prospects and couldn't afford more training. She travelled over land to the US and joined an aunt and cousins living in Lynn. When she first arrived, she had to find work. She wanted to study and learn English, but she couldn't afford the time. "We have to make a choice between learning English and working. I know learning English is the most important thing to do when you arrive in the US, but I couldn't do it right away."
Quendia joined Pathways in 2008 and attended ESOL classes until the birth of her son. She stopped to care for him but once he was school age, she came back to Pathways to complete her education.
Last year she completed ESOL Level 4 and, with the help of Pathways advisors, applied to a Bookkeeping certificate course at North Shore Community College. Having completed the certificate program, Quendia now works at Pathways as an Advisor, helping students overcome barriers to their education and plan for the future. She is proud of the hard work she has put in and is excited to be a part of positive change in the lives of Pathways students.
"Pathways gave me the support and information I needed to succeed and move forward in my life," Quendia says.