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After struggles, HiSET attainment and a brighter future

College Bound Dorchester student Naomie Charles will enroll in fall semester at RCC

Jule Pattison-Gordon
After struggles, HiSET attainment and a brighter future
Naomie Charles spoke to the Banner at College Bound Dorchester last week. She worked to pass the high school equivalency exam and gain college entrance while raising two young children and battling homelessness.

With college enrollment lined up for the fall and plans to work toward a business degree, 28-year-old Naomie Charles considered the future. She weighed whether to turn her natural talent at hair styling into a hair salon and fashion boutique business or seek the challenge of a new field, such as nursing.

Author: Photo: Courtesy of College Bound DorchesterCollege Bound Dorchester celebrated its fourth annual matriculation celebration.

Charles’ prospects looked very different from two years ago, when she first entered College Bound Dorchester, a four-year-old nonprofit that helps low-income teens and young adults gain high school equivalencies and higher degrees. Charles had been homeless, recently released from incarceration and largely on her own. Failing to complete the program could have meant losing her kids, housing or still being required to wear a court-ordered GPS tracking monitor, she told the Banner.

On Tuesday, Charles and nearly 50 other CBD students ages 18 to 30 celebrated their entrance into college and other achievements at the nonprofit’s matriculation ceremony.

“I’m very happy to say that I made it,” Charles said. While her housing remains unstable, she is on track to get off probation in December 2017 and looks forward to entering Roxbury Community College this fall.

“That [I graduated] surprised a lot of people,” she said. “A lot of people did not expect me to succeed.”

Challenging path

Like many CBD students, Charles comes from a low-income background. Her school struggles began in high school, when she made friends who frequently skipped class. Charles started missing days with them, but the lost classroom time made academics a challenge — ultimately she did not pass her grade 12 math MCAS, which prevented her from graduating. She tried for a GED but became discouraged when she did not pass, she said.

“I always wanted to finish school,” Charles said. “I have to accept responsibly for the mistakes I made, but things I hardly had control over hindered me. “

Charles has struggled with homelessness and although over the years, she tried three high school equivalency programs, none worked for her. She would either fail the equivalency test or drop out of the program, she said. Then it was a struggle to summon up the energy to try again.

In 2014, she was arrested for involvement in a fight that turned violent.

Charles said that although her mother supported her throughout her court case, when she was released from incarceration, she was largely on her own. Due to her court involvement, she lost her housing voucher, and, because the voucher appeal period ended while the court case was ongoing, she was unable to appeal. Although she landed a job as a telemarketer, she was let go when they found out about her incarceration, she said.

At the time that she entered College Bound Dorchester, Charles did not have a permanent place to stay, was pregnant and had a young child. She often had to trek to CBD through a winter that crippled public transportation. It would have been easy to become discouraged, she said.

Author: Photo: Courtesy of College Bound DorchesterNaomie Charles was among students commemorated in College Bound Dorchester’s matriculation celebration on Tuesday.

Holistic model

What made CBD different from the other HiSET programs she tried, Charles said, was it provided support not just for her education, but her whole life.

As part of its model, the organization pairs its students with college readiness advisors and helps connect students with resources for other life needs such as driver’s licenses, child care, court involvement support and housing, Charles said. Advisors create personalized plans for each student and continue to check up on them until they receive an associate’s or four-year degree.

“It’s not just about school for them, with us. They want to make sure to cover all our needs as a person. I’m not sure I’ve found that anywhere else or would get that anywhere else,” Charles told the Banner.

Charles’ son, now age one, has been in a CBD daycare program since he was four months old. Completing high school has brought her closer not just to her dreams, but has set her children on a better path as well, she said.

“For my children to be able to say that both their parents graduated high school is very important to me,” Charles said, “because I feel like based on statistics, that’ll mean both my children will be able to succeed as well.”

CBD opened its doors four years ago in Dorchester. It mission is to help disconnected young adults achieve degrees and living-wage jobs, and, ultimately, to make college graduation the local norm.