Byron Pillow Jr., 23, was born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana. As a teenager who struggled with multiple learning disabilities, school wasn't a priority for Pillow, despite having support from his family.
“When you have learning disabilities, you are often pushed to the side or to the back of the class,” Pillow said.
At the age of 17, Pillow dropped out of school to focus on work. He began working multiple jobs and earned enough money to purchase a car.
“Working a lot of hours and making ends meet— it wasn’t enough for me,” Pillow said. “Everyone was always telling me, ‘you have to go back to school and earn a diploma’”.
Recently, Pillow’s sister earned a bachelor’s degree in Houston, Texas, and his mother returned to school and earned a bachelor’s degree. Their success motivated him to complete his education and pursue bigger dreams. In October 2021, Pillow enrolled at The Excel Center®, Goodwill’s free high school for adults. He realized quickly that The Excel Center - Meadows was different from his previous schools.
“I hate to admit it, but at first I was only focused on getting my diploma as quickly as possible to make my mom smile,” Pillow said. “But soon I realized, I was also doing this for me. It felt good to earn straight As, feel positivity from the teachers, and support from other students.”
The staff members felt the same way.
“Byron was known throughout our campus as the voice for the students,” said Laura Fehr, director of The Excel Center - Meadows. “Due to Byron’s struggles in his previous schools, he was often able to identify when others were struggling as well. If he noticed a student was struggling, he would secretly ask a staff member to check in with that student and would often follow up.”
Designed to meet the unique needs of adults, The Excel Center offers flexible scheduling and bundled coursework, so students can earn credits every 8 weeks, year-round. While Pillow attended class full-time at The Excel Center, he also continued to work a full-time job in the evenings and on weekends.
“The staff supported me 110%,” Pillow said. “They knew my story, what I had going on with work, and they greeted me every day with understanding.”
In addition to helping students earn a Core 40 high school diploma, The Excel Center also requires that students graduate with college credits and/or industry-recognized certifications. All of this is at no cost to the student. Pillow decided to earn a NCCER in Core Construction & Research and passed his Commercial Drivers License (CDL) the same week that he graduated.
In December 2022, Pillow walked across the stage, making not only his mom and sister proud but also himself.
“The Goodwill Excel Center has opened a million and one doors for me,” Pillow said.
Using his CDL, Pillow recently accepted a new job as part of a large company’s fleet service and finally has a career that does not require him to work multiple jobs simultaneously.
“I tell people this all the time, but The Excel Center has changed my life.”
Since 2010, The Excel Center has helped over 7,000 Hoosiers earn their Indiana Core 40 high school diploma. The Excel Center graduates have also earned over 8,000 industry-recognized certifications with a 99% college and career readiness rate. The Excel Center is perfectly positioned to help adult learners realize their potential. To learn more about The Excel Center, visit excelcenter.org.