School on Wheels MA student Ana (left) and her mentor Beth

Stephanie* moved back and forth between Haiti and Boston with her mom throughout her childhood. When she was 12 years old, the two settled in Brockton, with Stephanie’s mom’s brother. That did not go well. Yet, the two had nowhere else to go. So when a room became available at a motel being used as a homeless shelter, Stephanie’s mom took it. This is how Stephanie came to call the Brockton Quality Inn “home” for her final 2-1/2 years of high school.  And this is how she became a client of TPC Grantee School on Wheels (SOWMA), an organization that helps lift homeless youth out of poverty.

“The motel was not a great environment,” Stephanie recalled. “I was mature enough to cope, but I would never put a child there if she wasn’t old enough to understand what was going on.” There were a lot of rules (like no visitors), there were food restrictions, people selling drugs, and the rooms were not great. Although, Stephanie added, “My mom is a clean freak. So our room was clean.”

Stephanie had not been dealt a great hand in life. Yet, with the support of her mother, other caring adults, and TPC Grantee SOWMA, she set goals for herself which included graduating from high school and going to college. And now she’s doing just that.

SOWMA student Ana graduating from Massasoit Community College, with daughter Brianna, also a SOWMA student.

Stephanie graduated from Brockton High in 2013, and this May she’ll receive an associate’s degree in Criminal Justice from Bunker Hill Community College. Thanks to SOWMA’s High School Plus Program, funded by TPC’s $30,000 grant, Stephanie was partnered with a mentor who will help with the next phase of her education, Bridgewater State University, where she was recently accepted.

How has SOWMA helped Stephanie? “They helped me apply to Bridgewater and paid my application fees. They are supportive, and always there for me. My mentor is great at giving me little boosts.” When it comes to education, Stephanie says her mother wants her to do well, and to rise above her current situation. “But she’s a single mother, she assumes I know how to do all of this, but I don’t, and I need help.” SOWMA gives Stephanie the help she needs.

SOWMA student George is another High School Plus success story. Currently in his second semester at UMass-Boston, George seems excited by it all – his philosophy courses, the “Casa Latina” Spanish Club, and especially about the possibility of an internship with Disney. (Fingers crossed!)

George enjoying the Boston Public Garden.

Lucky for George, his SOWMA mentor is a UMass-Boston professor, which makes working together easier, despite their hectic schedules. “I wouldn’t have known about the Disney internship without my mentor,” George said.

George gives his mentor, Professor Bryan Richardson, an A+. “I’m actually meeting up with him this week on campus. He’s been doing a great job, and has been providing what I was looking for in a mentor – he really knows how to work well with students and their communities.”

George is brimming with gratitude for all that SOWMA has given him over the last few years, from T Passes and school supplies, to providing a college mentor. Said George, “SOWMA has been the force that’s been helping me each step along my journey.”

As for Stephanie, two weeks ago she got the best news of all: Bridgewater State had selected her to be a University Scholar, which comes with a full tuition scholarship, including room and board.  Which means that this fall, Stephanie will be a college student with a dorm room and place to call her own. Says SOWMA founder Cheryl Opper, ”I can’t wait to take Stephanie shopping for her dorm supplies!”

And who knows, someday Stephanie may become a member of TPC. Thanks to SOWMA, Stephanie and another student will be attending TPC’s Young Philanthropist Conference on April 2.

Watch this short TV news segment about SOWMA: “Making the Grade: School on Wheels”

* Stephanie is a pseudonym.

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