2020 Graduating class of Year Up Delaware Sean Greene

Twelve months ago, Ronald Shackelford Jr. found himself simply looking for his pathway.

The Conrad graduate had a 1-year-old son [Ronald III], and was engaged, but didn’t have a lot of happiness in his place in life.

He’d gotten a series of small facial tattoos, but not a lot of progress on a professional path, so he had a conversation with his fiancée, Taylor Brown.

“We came up with this plan, and we were going to go to a new country and figure something out because nothing we’ve been doing here worked. When I ended up with having a seizure and going to the hospital, I was devastated. I didn’t know what I was going to do for my son, and that’s my number one priority.”

His answer came in a series of emails that had been sent to Taylor, telling him about Year Up Wilmington—a partnership between Wilmington University and various businesses that starts with six months of in-class education, and then a six-month internship in a chosen career path.

“I really had no other option. I had just gotten out of the hospital; I had no money for a new place, nowhere to stay, no job, this was the last option for me. I had a little son to take care of, a fiancée that was relying on me, it was time to kick it into high gear and change my life.”

Both Ronald and Taylor enrolled in the national program’s fifth Wilmington class, and on the night of their graduations, Taylor described the learning in the program as multi-faceted.

“Not only do we have educational aspects…we have career and life aspects that you’re learning throughout this program. It’s definitely super-intensive, and I feel a lot prouder of myself that I was able to accomplish this than even graduating high school. This is amazing.”

Ronald excelled on the education side, but he still had concerns about effects of the markings on his face as he started his internship with J.P. Morgan Chase.

“It was a huge challenge. I was very afraid because of my facial tattoos, but I was a very strong candidate. The culture there, my team, they embraced me and I was able to learn quick and excel. My manager said I was the best intern she’d ever seen. They knew they wanted me from month one, and they did what they had to do to get me converted as quickly as possible because they knew my situation and story. They wanted me to be part of their team, and they wanted to help me out. I did what I was supposed to do and I exceeded their expectations. It was an all-around great experience.”

Ronald was the first of his 28-member Year Up graduating class to get full-time work and said his tattoos went form a point of something resembling shame to a point of pride.

“I am extremely proud of them. Before I went to my internship, I was extremely scared, I was going to cover them with make-up. We had a huge pow-wow with the class, and that’s where the support system comes in. They all told me: ‘I’m a star, I’m at the top of the class, you’re doing this and that, let your work speak for yourself.’ I took a chance, and they were right. They saw what I could do as an employee and the value I bring, so the face tats didn’t matter.”

For Ronald’s fiancée Taylor, she said she was a solid student at Middletown, but with a 1-year-old in the fold, she had extra emphasis to get to graduation day and beyond, despite balancing family and career.

“So difficult, and at the same time twice as motivating. You want to do the best for your child, and you don’t want it to be a situation, where your child is doing worse than you or even the same as you. You want them to grow past you, and if we set the bar low, what is that saying to our child? We wanted to go through this program the best that we could, so we could provide that foundation for our child to build off of in the future.”

That foundation is something Ronald Brown bragged about with a giant smile.

“I’m a software development engineer with J.P. Morgan Chase, and I’m making a substantial amount of money,” Brown said with a smile. “I hope to continue to grow in that space and grow into any technology field and any line of business that I can. I want to get somewhere high up so I can say I’m happy, I’m stable, and I’m proud of myself for where I’ve come, and it’s all because of Year Up.”

Ronald added Year Up Wilmington could be the right answer for so many people.

“If they need to change their life, and they’re motivated and need something else, if they can sacrifice a year, I guarantee you on my son, me, and my fiancée, on everyone who has successfully completed this program that it is worth it. If you’re willing to put 100% effort in, this will take you where you want to go.”

A man who was seeking a path found it, and so much more.

“I’ve never proud of myself for anything, but I’ve never been more proud of myself than right now.”

Twelve months later, that’s certainly a Year Up.

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