First Literacy scholarship recipient Lauretta Brennan spoke about her experience as an adult learner at the 27th Annual Corporate Spelling Bee on April 7th. We invited Lauretta to speak because she has been an inspiration to our First Literacy family since she was awarded her scholarship in 2006. As you can see in her reflection below, her experience has not been easy, but her story clearly shows the power of education.
Hi, my name is Lauretta. I grew up in the Old Colony projects with my mom and three brothers. My mother worked as a waitress overnight and my dad was a cab driver who lived in Dorchester. My dad’s cabinets were always stocked with food, he had a car, and he lived in a nice area. We had none of those things growing up. My mom also struggled with alcoholism, and as a result, my twin brother and I ended up in a foster home for six months until she could pass a few sobriety tests.
I live and was raised in an institution of bricks where it’s uncommon to work or go to college, but normal to get food stamps. Most people refer to where I live as a project, while others say a housing development. When I first began to consider going to college, I was addicted to cigarettes, just like my mom, and I lived off welfare, $429 a month and $300 in food stamps. I felt like a thirty year old orphan, and I wasn’t happy with myself or the world around me. I knew I had to push myself to make a change, especially since I had a young son that I was raising on my own. That is when I reached out for support and applied for the First Literacy Scholarship.
As an adult student, I learned many things, but one of the most important lessons I learned was how to create healthy boundaries. As a result, I made my home safe by ending an abusive relationship. While this ex-partner will always be my son’s dad, I came to realize we had to live apart. As I sat at my kitchen table staring out my window one night, I remember thinking, “How am I going to make this better for my little boy and me?” I needed a job which paid a decent wage to support my family and college was the answer.
Life was difficult when I was in an abusive relationship. I vividly recall one morning when the Boston Police were at my house for a Domestic Violence call. As soon as they left, I ran out in the coldest winter day of the year with no socks on. All I could think of was getting us out of survival mode and into the distraction of class work. The adult education program which I graduated from took care of and educated my son while I was in class at Bunker Hill Community College. I learned to leave my problems at the door when I went to class in the morning. They were certainly there for me when I was leaving at the end of the day.
I knew that I had to educate myself in order to become employable, so I started my college career. If you would have told me that it would take me five years to get my Associate’s Degree, I would have felt extremely overwhelmed and probably have never even started. College was new to me and extremely frightening. I set it up so that my son would be in daycare while I attended classes. Managing my time became most important. I used my First Literacy Scholarship to pay for additional childcare. First Literacy’s financial donation enabled me to pay someone to babysit my son so that I wouldn’t be up all night studying. Without that scholarship I was up until three in the morning doing homework after my son went to bed. Being up that late didn’t allow me to be my best self or the best mom to my son. That’s why it was so important for me to get that scholarship. Nowhere else did I know of an organization that gave you a scholarship to spend on your real needs. My need at that time was childcare. College as an adult learner was difficult, but with the help of First Literacy, I persevered and graduated in May of 2013.
After earning my Associate’s degree in Business Management, I set out to reach my next goal- a job that would sustain my family! First, I worked as the director of the Community Computer Lab in the Maryellen McCormack Development in South Boston. Then two years ago, I was hired by Beacon Properties as an administrative assistant at the Tierney Learning Center in my home development, Old Colony.
As a single mother, I have to take care of my son despite blizzards, occasional illnesses, and the sight of his dad with other women, or even tragic deaths. No matter what life throws at me, my priorities of my family, my work, and my responsibilities are taken care of. I’m not going to be that depressed person who won’t leave my bed. In fact, I jump out of my bed now knowing that, yes, I’m going to work from 8:30-5 PM every day. I do it because I want to be able to provide for my son and me with my own resources. First Literacy gave me my first ever scholarship, gave me encouragement, and nurtured me on my journey as an adult college student. Today I advocate for my family so that we can be the best that we can be. I’m no longer an uneducated person who is easily frightened.
Today I am also the executive of my family. I make serious and educated choices. I pay my bills first and I live within my means. Although I’m not wealthy, I’m financially independent. I don’t allow toxicity in my circle or in my home. I keep extremely strong boundaries. I trust my intuition now. I am dependable and available. I am a great mom to my nine year old son who is my motivation. I’ve recently been promoted at the Tierney Learning Center as the membership coordinator. I have been smoke free for over three years. I’m stable. No matter what situations confront me, I remain professional.
This past Halloween my son’s father died. Three months later, on January 6th, my twin brother died, both from heroin overdoses. This is my second brother who I have lost to that horrific disease. I dedicate this speech, with all my love, to all those who, like me, will continue to persevere, are motivated to grow, to go to college, to step out of their comfort zone, to ask for help, to walk in the sun, who seek healthy escapes, and give our children, with or without fathers, resilience, hope and an education.
First Literacy was a great help to me and as a result, I feel eager to give back. I may not have money to give, so I give my time, my advice, or a listening ear.
Today, more than ever, I want to pay it forward. I wish I could take a day off work to go speak to the current scholars to tell them to hang in there, or I wish I had enough spare cash to donate some so that more scholars could participate.
I can’t thank First Literacy enough for encouraging my growth and helping to support the person who I have become and the dramatic changes in my life. If someone could have told me five years ago where I would be today, I would have wanted it and started much sooner! Yet nothing good comes easy. I put in the work, and I hope many other adult learners will have the chance to do the same.
Your contribution to First Literacy would go to changing more lives like mine. Please consider donating. Thank you for listening.