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Many people who are able to read this blog on a computer, tablet, or cell phone have never known true poverty. The fact is we cannot really imagine what it is like to be truly hungry or not know if we will have a roof over our heads when the sun comes up tomorrow. When we were children and teenagers, we most likely had someone looking out for us, providing for us–a family. Even if our family was not perfect or we were rebellious, we knew our basic needs would still be met.

As a teacher in an economically depressed area riddled with crime, it was not uncommon for kids to be in foster care, because their parents were drug addicts or homeless. Over 50% of students qualified for free and reduced breakfast and lunch. Later, a plan was adopted to provide these meals free of charge to all students.

Of course, some kids could not rebound from these dire circumstances. They got into trouble, went into rehab multiple times, or dropped out of school thinking the answer was somewhere else. But, so many literally did whatever it took to survive and harbored a hope their life could be better.

On the first day of school, Lisette walked into my senior English class with a chip on her shoulder. She always participated in class and completed all of her work, but she carried the attitude of one whose life was chiseled into marble at the age of 18, and it was not a life she would have chosen.

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With some encouragement, little by little Lisette began to believe she could do more. She had always wanted more, but she had learned to doubt herself. In time I learned Lisette left school at 2:35 every day and reported for work at a fast food restaurant where she worked second shift from 3:00-11 p.m. As some students do, she was not working to save for a car, the latest cell phone, or a designer handbag. She was working to feed and keep a roof over herself and her mentally handicapped mother. At her age she had more of a work ethic and sense of responsibility than some people develop in a lifetime. Those two qualities alone can guarantee success.

Success and happiness can be found following many different paths in life; a college degree does not equal either. In fact, success and happiness can be found for some by working in a fast food restaurant. But, Lisette already knew her current circumstances were not going to satisfy her. When I spoke to her about attending college, it was obvious she had never given the idea a thought; she believed it was an impossibility for her. It took some time, but she began to see she could build the life she imagined for herself and her loved ones. Lisette possessed the intelligence, skills, and drive to achieve; she just needed some help with finding the way.

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Fortunately, several colleges in town could be reached by public transportation, so she would be able to live at home and care for her mother. She would also be able to keep her job, scheduling classes around her work schedule. The last and most critical aspect of obtaining higher education,  the ability to pay for it, was satisfied through financial aid. Of course, it was going to be hard work juggling her responsibilities, but Lisette was more than ready for the challenge.

During our lives we are faced with challenges big and small. Some are easy to navigate, and we find ourselves right where we want to be with little effort. But some, some are so monumental to us we cannot envision ourselves at the summit of success. If we are lucky, we grow up hearing, “Believe in yourself!”, “You can do anything if you try!”, but somewhere along the way those words lose their meaning. Take a minute to recognize all of the things you have overcome, all of the things you have accomplished. Doing so will help you to see you are worth believing in.

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