I never stayed in a place long enough to call it home. My mother abused drugs and alcohol, and we moved around constantly. When I was nine, my siblings and I were split up and placed into different foster homes. I moved in and out of sixteen different foster homes, where I endured the same abuse. I was treated like a paycheck or a burden, never like a family member. My fate was chosen by people in a courtroom who had to look down at a piece of paper to remember my name. I was born into a broken home and then placed into a broken system.
I worked full-time during my senior year of high school, and at eighteen I moved out on my own and graduated with honors and a 3.8 GPA. After high school, I completed three years at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, studying to be a teacher. On paper, I was doing everything right. But the lack of support, the student loans, and working the night shift full-time at a gas station took a heavy toll on me. I dropped out of school and lived paycheck to paycheck on $7.50 an hour. Then, my sister, a student at Year Up, encouraged me to join her for the program. I figured this was my last chance to make something of myself, so I saved up what little money I could and drove to Boston.
At first, I thought that many of Year Up’s strict standards were unreasonable, but I soon realized that those high expectations show that Year Up believes in its students. Before Year Up, no one was interested in my potential. As long as I wasn’t pregnant, doing drugs, or dead, I was considered a success story. Year Up believed I could do more. The Year Up staff members care and are always supportive. Every morning they would greet me with, “Good morning, Ashley,” without having to look down at a piece of paper to do so. They taught me about accountability, professionalism, and the value of networking. They also took IT from being something I knew nothing about to being a viable career path. Year Up showed me that not every system is broken. Now, instead of working the gas station night shift, I am a Quality Assurance Tester at Harvard University, and have plans to become a business analyst in the next five years. My experience at Year Up was a blessing, and I’m prepared to keep running forward.