The Lives We Change! The Families We Change! The Communities We Change!
Monday, July 17, 2017 - 3:13pm
Naya Williams was 18 years-old when her mother passed away, leaving her to guide and love her three younger siblings, a 13-year-old and two six-year-old twins. “I made a promise to her that they would be OK,” she said.
After the last twin enrolled in college in 2012, Naya decided it was her turn. She had promised her mom she would go to college. “I wanted to put my family in the position of bettering themselves,” she said.
Naya selected Community College of Philadelphia, where she was eligible for Keystone Education Yields Success (KEYS), a program that assists recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in finding structured, affordable paths to work and college.
The program provided unique, personalized services, such as access to affordable daycare, workshops that upgrade job hunting talents and skills to help manage the complications that often arise in life. Established 11 years ago, the program has assisted more than 10,000 individuals.
With the help of KEYS, Naya was able to secure a part-time job as a nurse’s aide along with a ladder to help reach her dream job: Nursing. The textbooks used in the Nursing program can cost upward of $900, and they must be purchased at the program’s start. Naya couldn’t afford to buy them, so KEYS provided money for the books, giving her opportunities she might not otherwise have.
The Nursing program changes everything for her family because the entry-level salary for nurses in Philadelphia is $50,000 a year.
On May 6, Naya graduated from the College with an associate’s degree in Nursing, while a cheering, waving, crowd of friends, family and neighbors watched her cross the stage. They had waited a long time for this day.
Alongside of her were some of the 18 other graduates from KEYS, three of whom, along with Naya received associate’s degrees in Nursing. Nine of the KEYS graduates were honor students.
Beaming proudly in the audience was Kimberly Daniel, KEYS program project director.
“All of them have worked very hard, and many have endured extreme challenges during their academic journey,” Daniel said. “The fact that they have made it to this point is a testament to their fortitude and perseverance. The impact of their achievement will be felt for generations, and we are elated to witness their successful transition towards self-sufficiency.”
The Nursing program is among the most rigorous and challenging offered at the College. As an older student, returning to the stress of tests, studying and reading, Naya faced difficult classes and bouts of discouragement. When she did, the KEYS staff and Nursing faculty both were there, alternately offering tissues for the tears, and praise when things went right. “They make you believe that you can do it,” she said.
“This is a great program to help you move ahead,” Naya said. “It helps with scholarship, emotional support, planning, job development and connects you with people who will listen.
‘There were times I didn’t think I could do it, just being older and not knowing that I could succeed. The KEYS staff kept letting me know that it is going to be all right. I am so grateful. They make you feel like it is OK to open up and share,” she said.
Renee Harris, another older student, traveled alongside Naya in this journey, seeking a nursing career and a piece of the American dream. Like Naya, she is working as a health aide at Bayada. After passing the National Council of State Board of Nursing NCLEX-RN examination, they will be certified as nurses and can begin the path that leads to the middle class.
Life is about to change directions for the KEYS graduates, and, in many cases, for their family members who now have set their sights on a college degree as well. During the past 11 years, there have been about 210 graduates, and 72 certificates awarded.
“We have degrees,” Renee Harris said. “No one can take them from us.”