The beginning of high school was a difficult time for me. There were things at home I couldn’t control. My family was living in a shelter and struggling financially—and I was struggling with my schoolwork. I needed something to get me on the right track. I joined the WIOA program so that I could get a summer job and earn stipends. Then I could use the money to help pay for bills and expenses to help my family out and find a more stable living situation.
It turned out that WIOA was the best program I ever attended throughout my high school years. One of my struggles was balancing my classwork and social life. I loved basketball and all I wanted to do was play the game and work out. Basketball was an escape for me. However, Mr. Eric, Ms. Michelle, and Mr. Maurice showed me that I had to look not just at escaping. They showed me that basketball gave me opportunities to do more than just play a sport and how to use the sport as a tool—to open up doors with people and how to be professional when I was talking. I liked that they didn’t downplay the importance of basketball in my life, but instead showed me how I could use it for more than just an escape. It got me thinking about the importance of networking with people and how I could use my strengths and experiences to better my life.
The same thing happened with the summer job I got through WIOA, working at Walgreens. I was able to apply the concepts I learned with basketball to my job and learn so much more than how to operate a register, and earn more than the dollars I was paid. I acquired a strong work ethic and became skilled at and comfortable with interacting with others in a professional way. WIOA really emphasized knowing what you’re doing and why, and that helped me make the most of my job, basketball, and school.
At school, I was struggling with my Regents exams, the college application process, and with my education in general, because no one in my family earned beyond a high school diploma, and I didn’t really know about college or have a strong support system. But WIOA became that support system. Mr. Eric helped me understand why college was important and what I needed to do in order to get there. The staff helped me get ready for college and become more focused, and they helped me with applications and financial aid. I applied early and got into West Virginia University and received enough financial aid to make it possible for me to go.
WIOA also stresses helping in the community. One of the best service learning projects I did was when we partnered with Friends of Rockaway and helped with Hurricane Sandy relief. We went out over several weeks and helped with the rebuilding of someone’s home. We were also able to go out to the community to see if others were hit by the storm, too. This was very impactful for me because I got to know my director, Mr. Eric, so much better and understand how he is in the position and the job he’s in now but wasn’t always. He struggled similar to how I have been struggling but still made it in life. It made me believe that I can, too, and can give back to my community and make it better—the way other people have worked to make it better for me.
I participated in WIOA for two full years before graduating high school and starting college this fall. I hope going to college and earning a degree will open doors and opportunities for me and my family.
I’m still in my first year so I’m not exactly sure what I want to do, but I’m looking at sports management and political science. I feel so lucky to have these options.
One of the best things I got out of WIOA was that it shaped my values and made me more aware of what I’m doing and why. I used to never reflect on why I was doing something and how it played a role in my larger goals. I didn’t really think about the purpose. Now thinking about those things is second nature to me.
Life without WIOA — I can’t really picture that because they helped me so much to get where I am today. If I didn’t become a part of WIOA, I would not have had the skills or the resources I needed to go to college. Being out of state is the best thing that ever happened to me. Getting to know new things and develop relationships and network with different people was a great thing, too.
This is my story of being a student of WIOA. It’s still helping me.