For many people, breaking the cycle of poverty seems impossible. For Angelica Tibbitts, it’s her dream and it’s coming true.
High school can be a difficult time for teenagers. While many struggle with relationships, homework, or what to wear to school, for Angelica, it was more like, “Where am I going to sleep tonight?”
“Growing up, I was homeless, living out of cars or a friend’s house,” explained Angelica. “The house I was in was being foreclosed and didn’t have electricity, heat, or water.”
Attending school wasn’t much easier.
“My mom made it very difficult. She didn’t really think high school was important and going to college was out of the question. She’d say, ‘That’s a waste of time and money. You can get a job now.’”
Regardless of her mother’s objections, Angelica attended Pontiac Academy for Excellence where she was part of our Workforce Prep program. Her Winning Futures career mentor was Tamara Taylor, regional technical training manager for engineering at Stellantis.
Angelica decided that earning a college degree would give her more prosperous career opportunities and a happier life. The problem for her was that she had very little support and didn’t know how to achieve her goal. That’s when she went to Tamara and her school’s college and career coordinator, Veda Thomas, and asked for help.
“They said, ‘If that’s what you want to do, we’ll get you there.’”
With help from Tamara and Veda, Angelica improved her grades, applied to college, applied for financial aid, and won several competitive scholarships, including our Winning Futures Cupp-Hamilton Scholarship. It all paid off when Angelica became the first in her family to graduate from high school and received a letter of acceptance from Saginaw Valley State University.
At about the same time Angelica graduated from high school, we launched our College Success Mentoring (CSM) program – a support program exclusively for former Winning Futures high school students who proceed to college or trade school. She was one of the first students in the program.
Angelica declared education with a focus on special education as her major at SVSU, so we matched her with career mentor Tracey Yacks who has extensive experience in the field and is working as a teaching and learning specialist at Ferndale Public Schools.
“Angelica is the most positive person I’ve met in my entire life,” said Tracey. “The challenges she has encountered, the different obstacles that she had to deal with, at no time did she ever seem discouraged or give up. It’s always been, ‘This is what I want to do, this is what I’m going to do, and this is how I’m going to achieve it.’”
As with most college students, Angelica experienced ups and downs as she pursued her degree. All along the way, Tracey was there, coaching, encouraging, and supporting Angelica.
“The most important thing I learned from Tracey and the program was drive – motivation to keep going, even when it’s hard,” said Angelica. “When COVID happened, college was completely different, and I really wasn’t motivated. But having Tracey as my mentor, someone who was in education and going through the same things, that really helped me keep going. I had so many questions and she gave lots of good answers that made a lot of sense. She helped me confirm that education is the thing I wanted to do.”
While Angelica has not yet completed her studies or earned her degree, she has already secured employment. She spent this past year teaching special education students at her alma mater, Pontiac Academy for Excellence. And while her relationship with Tracey was focused on earning her degree, the nature of Tracey’s support has changed.
“When we meet now it’s more of a colleague situation,” said Tracey. “It’s no longer about graduating, interviewing, or getting a job. She’s beyond those skills. Now we have a teacher-to-teacher relationship, so our conversation is geared toward practical things in the classroom.”
Angelica is on track to earn her degree this December and looks forward to continuing as the K-5 special education teacher at PAE.
“I found passion for changing inner city school systems. I feel like there’s so much I can help with, coming from the area that I came from and dealing with some serious issues. I have students coming to me all the time who are in situations just like I was. I want them to know that I was there once and that I went through it. I want to help them.”
Reflecting on her journey, Angelica is grateful for our program and the career mentoring she received from Tamara and Tracey.
“If I never graduated from high school, I probably would be in the same circle of poverty that my family is in, living on the street, into some things I shouldn’t be in, maybe even in jail. I’m a first-generation high school graduate and I’m about to be a first-generation college graduate. Winning Futures was the push and support that I needed to achieve my dream.”
Watch Angelica talk about her experience in our program.
Learn more about our program or becoming a career mentor.