Ashford gave me the building blocks to get where I am today.
Maria Aponte of Saint Cloud, Florida is a woman with drive. This aspiring advocate for homeless teens had a childhood marked with struggle: her elementary years were spent in foster homes and youth shelters, and her teenage years were spent living on the streets. “As a result, I never graduated high school. In fact, I only attended up to the seventh grade.”
Maria became a young mother and by the age of 20 she had given birth to four children, two of whom passed away. “After the death of my daughter, my two children and I moved to Orlando, Florida to live with my mother and her new husband. For me, the most important thing was to make sure I provided my children with a safe place to sleep and good schools to attend. So, I worked really hard at work and at covering up the fact that I only had a seventh grade education.”
Maria’s hard work paid off. She has successfully raised four happy, healthy children – three of her own and her niece, who she is in the process of adopting. “They are all really great kids – and I’m not just saying that because they are mine; they are so well-rounded, loving, empathetic, understanding, and talented.”
Because she so strongly felt the sting of not having an education in her own life, Maria made education a primary focus in her household. “It’s not just about the grades; it’s about the knowledge that comes from learning.”
To reinforce this idea, Maria made the decision to take the GED. “I wanted a better life and a chance to show my kids that anything is possible if you desire it and are motivated to achieve it. I know what my goals are and what I want my future to be like. In order for me to achieve those goals, I must have an education. When I passed the GED, I celebrated by enrolling in college.”
Four years later, on May 9, 2010 at the age of 35, Maria Aponte walked across the stage at the commencement ceremony in Clinton, Iowa and received her Bachelor of Arts degree with double majors in Psychology and Social Science with an Education concentration*. On her hand, she wore a graduation ring marked with the initials AU and the year of her graduation – a gift from her fiancé. It was especially significant for Maria that May 9th was Mother’s Day. “There’s no way I would have been able to make it without the loving support of my family. It was the best Mother’s Day present I could have ever hoped for!”
What's next for Maria? When we last spoke to her, she was pursuing her Master of Science in Psychology. “I will also be attending post-baccalaureate pre-medial school soon, and then it’s off to medical school to obtain my double major. My dream is to launch a safe house for teenage children living on the streets; I want to provide an environment where they can not only have the opportunity to be who they are, but also get the guidance they need to live productive and fulfilling lives.” Not surprisingly, Maria’s plan for the safe house includes a strong emphasis on education. “I hope to inspire those children. If I could do it, anyone can.”
Maria says the educational process has given her a “sense of self-worth, self-respect, and motivation. Ashford gave me the building blocks to get where I am today, and for that I will be forever grateful! Thank you, Ashford, for being there when I needed you and providing me with the motivation to continue on the path to success.”
*This program was replaced with the Bachelor of Arts in Education Studies.