I would like to start off this story by introducing myself. My name is Janice. I was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. I came to Austin, Texas in 2005 after a Hurricane Katrina. I was only 14 years old at the time and this was my very first time coming to a new city, leaving my hometown that we called “The Boot.”
In Austin, I was targeted by middle school girls for being a “tom boy.” The school placed me into a program for students that were refugees from New Orleans. This program made us all stand out and we were targeted even more. I started getting into fights, I was even stabbed. This caused me so much damage to the point my grades started to drop. I stuck through it and it took many years to finish all my credits in school, but I could never pass the TAKS test. I tried so many times, but eventually gave up. I got in some legal trouble, because of a so called “friend,” but it made me realize something. That evening I came and sat down, looked at my daughter, and at that moment I told myself I’ll do better by her because she needs someone to protect her and guide her through life.
The next day my friend asked me to come to American YouthWorks with her so she could join the program. I found out that I could join too and work on my TAKS even though I was over 21. American YouthWorks took me in with open arms and opened my mind, not to mention so many doors because of all my accomplishments since I’ve been here.
I have learned so much in the Media Corps Program. Mr. Matt is brilliant teacher, so down to earth, and the other teacher, Ms. Kim, is so sweet. They help students such as myself learn computers skills. These computers are fixed up and donated to families in need. The step that excited me the most, I must admit, was being able to donate the computers back into my community. This made me proud of my work, knowing it would be useful and helping someone else, giving them an opportunity too. In Media Corps, we volunteer as much as possible. This way my classmates and I have the opportunity to have hands on experience to help people in our community and elsewhere in Austin.
My journey was not easy and I kept taking the TAKS test and failing by a few points. My childcare was denied four times for no reason while in the program. I felt like giving up at times, but YouthBuild would not give up on me. This school, I now call home. It is a family that looks for courage and dedication in people, to help them see their potential and give them will power to wake up every day, to be on time, and try your hardest. They saw something in me that with their help, I started to see too.
This school helped me clear my background, get childcare back, gave me training, and amongst other things, they got me ready to be successful. I am now able to see a difference in my life and in my children’s lives. Finally, in June I received my diploma and was able to walk the stage in my cap and gown. I participated in the Community Health Worker’s Certification Program and now I am enrolled in Austin Community College’s CNA (Certified Nurse Aide) Program for January 2017.
I have not one but two education awards to use toward college. This program helped me through it all. I was given resources I didn’t know existed. They cheered me on throughout my journey and still to this day, because like we say here, “Once YouthBuild, always YouthBuild!!