Most would not fault a student for dropping out or, at the very least, delaying her college education if she became a single mother as a senior in high school. But Kimberly Matias is no ordinary student.
Instead, Matias, 23, a General Studies major from Johnston, became more convinced than ever that earning a college degree was a matter of urgent importance. “I saw my mom struggle taking care of me and my two sisters by herself while she was working a factory job,” said Matias. “I knew I wanted more for my daughter and my future.”
Although she was a good student, and was more than ready to attend a four-year college, she knew she would have to make some compromises. Living in a basement studio apartment with her infant daughter, Dianelys, she went straight from high school and into the classroom at the Community College of Rhode Island, taking classes for a year while trying to juggle minimum wage jobs at J.C. Penney and McDonald’s. It wasn’t long before Matias saw that something had to give – but that didn’t mean giving up.
Instead, she enrolled in Year Up Providence, the job skills development nonprofit that helps students gain access to opportunities like networking, mentoring, and paid internships, all the while earning college credit while attending CCRI part time for free.
“I hadn’t worked anywhere professional before, and Year Up gave me the professional development that I needed to be able to get into a good job,” she said. “Year Up opened those doors.”
While at Year Up, Matias interned with GTECH (now IGT), where she discovered she had an aptitude in the information technology field. At the end of her six-month internship, she was offered a position as a help desk technician, and worked her way up to IT coordinator while taking classes at CCRI at night. She was able to move into a nicer apartment and eventually bought her own house.
“I think what kept me motivated was going home and seeing my kid every night, and knowing that it wasn’t just me – that I had a life depending on me as well,” she said. “I knew I could be better. I didn’t have to settle for being what people were telling me to be. I didn’t have to settle for making $6 an hour; I could do more. And this is just the first step.”
In 2015, Matias started a new job as an IT coordinator with Secure Future Tech Solutions, and will graduate from CCRI in May with a 3.4 GPA. She will continue on to Rhode Island College in the fall, where she will study psychology. Eventually, she said, she hopes to earn a medical degree and practice psychiatry.
“The first step was the hardest, but I’m getting there,” she said, crediting the encouragement of CCRI faculty and President Meghan Hughes – former executive director of Year Up – with providing her the strength and flexibility to keep going. “Knowing that you have people that care even if they don’t really know you, that they care enough to give you opportunities to be able to move forward and to get the best you could … that’s the biggest thing.”
Matias, in turn, that she takes it upon herself to inspire other young mothers who have struggled to look for ways to better their life, despite the discouraging attitudes pervading society. “I’m usually the one to say, ‘Listen, you got this, you can do it. I know it because I’ve lived it.'”
But it all comes back to her No. 1 fan: Dianelys, now 6. Knowing that she’ll be sitting there at graduation likely means more to her than any diploma, present or future. “I did feel discouraged for a while,” she said. “But when I held my daughter in my arms, I knew I could do this. And I want her to see that it doesn’t matter where you are in your life. As long as you want to do something, you can do it.”
*Read the original blog post here.