According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 11% of people over the age of 35 complete their GED. Willie Howard, CMC alumnus, did not let statistics interfere with his dream of furthering his education by completing his high school diploma. In April 2013, Willie’s life took a turn, from living under a bridge for five years with limited family support, he decided it was time to make a change to better himself. He felt it was time to overcome his fears and enroll in the program that could help him find housing. He came to the CMC. When Willie entered the program he came in with three goals in mind: create financial stability, obtain permanent housing, and complete his GED.
After being in the program for over a year, Willie accomplished his first and second goal, on December 22, 2014. He signed a lease to his very own apartment. After leaving the CMC, Willie continued to engage in CMC activities and volunteer on the weekends. During one of his piano lessons lead by Jon Nerdig, a Vincentian Service Corp volunteer 20142015, he told Jon that he wanted to complete his GED. Soon after Jon connected him to his new mentor, Mary Lou Langedyke. Mary Lou played an important role in supporting and guiding Willie in identifying GED programs that would be appropriate for Willie’s learning style.
From the very beginning of Willie’s path to furthering his education he stumbled upon roadblocks that made it difficult for him to persevere at times. The first obstacle Willie faced was not being able to retrieve his high school transcripts which resulted in him delaying the process of starting the GED program. He had to complete prerequisites required. Secondly, throughout his course studies he struggled to find a quiet place in his apartment building to study but he learned how to block off noise the best way he could. Willie also learned how to manage his time in order to finish the 36 courses with 16 lessons per course. Another major obstacle was the ability to take tests. Willie recalls at one point taking a test 26 times before passing.
Every roadblock Willie experienced he took it as an opportunity to grow as an individual and build his self-confidence. For him, giving up was not an option. When he felt discouraged, he focused on the bigger picture - walking the stage and experiencing the feeling of hard work and accomplishment, and knowing that it took that one person to believe him. He was not going to let his support system down. On March 15, 2018 Willie graduated with his high school diploma at age 60. After the two year journey, Willie proudly walked on the stage and experienced the feeling of, “I did it.”
Willie has officially closed one chapter of his life but it is the start of a new chapter of endless opportunities. What’s next for Willie? Willie proudly says that he will continue to work with his mentor Mary Lou on finding employment and enrolling in a trade tech school or community college to fulfill his childhood dream of becoming a tailor. He also plans to become a mentor and be that person to believe in someone. I leave you, in his words,
"If I can help one person, I have helped a 1,000.”