Theresa Samuels, 33, is a wife, mom, soon-to-be accountant and fervent believer in the power of education. Growing up, however, Theresa’s household did not place much emphasis on the value of schooling.
“My family is pretty old-school, and we lived in the country,” said Theresa. “High school just seemed like a waste of time when I could be working or actively helping out somehow. My parents withdrew me from school when I was 14 and said they’d homeschool me. Eventually, I withdrew from school completely on my own at the age of 16,” said Theresa.
Theresa started focusing on her family and soon became a mother of two. She found work as a housekeeper, but the long days and physical work eventually took a toll on her body. After several years of cleaning houses, she sustained a severe shoulder injury from continuous, hard scrubbing motions. Pregnant with her third child and now facing a second surgery to repair the damage to her shoulder, Theresa knew that she needed a change.
A conversation with her 10-year-old daughter made her realize that change had to start with returning to school to get her education.
“One day, I was trying to get my oldest daughter up for school. She was arguing with me saying that school didn’t really matter because she wasn’t going to college or anything anyway -- and it just broke my heart,” said Theresa. “Poverty perpetuates poverty, and I was witnessing my daughter giving up before she even really gave herself a chance. I’d seen ads for The Excel Center® on Facebook and knew that is where I needed to start the change and set an example for both my kids and myself.”
Theresa enrolled at The Excel Center, Goodwill’s free high school for adults. Between the support services designed to remove common barriers to education, to the familial environment of the school itself, Theresa knew from the first day that she had found the right fit.
“The staff, even the other students, are all so supportive,” said Theresa. “Looking back, I wish someone had pulled me aside as a teenager and asked me what was going on. Luckily, I had the support that I needed at The Excel Center. They build a whole community and safety net around you. Once I realized that they weren’t going to let me fail, I began to thrive.”
Within a year of enrolling, Theresa went from having zero high school credits to earning all 40 and graduating with a 4.2 GPA. She was the top student in her class and even gave the commencement speech at her graduation ceremony -- a moment she describes as surreal.
Two months later, Theresa landed a job at Anthem, Inc. -- in a role that she loves -- making nearly double her previous income. This year, she will graduate with an associate degree in accounting through Purdue University’s Global program. After which, her company plans to move her from claims processing to the finance department and will support her future educational goals through tuition reimbursement for her bachelor’s degree. Theresa credits her career success to the support of The Excel Center.
“I honestly never thought I would be where I am today,” said Theresa. “The Excel Center not only prepared me from an educational standpoint -- I jumped into college courses with no problem -- but they gave me the confidence to pursue my dreams. They encouraged me to apply for a job that I worried I wasn’t qualified for, and now I am doing better than I could have ever imagined.”
The Excel Center is now enrolling new students. To learn more, visit excelcenter.org.