A Life Renewed
By Anthony Haley
“The road to success is always under construction.”—Attorney Willie Gary
It was my sophomore year of high school. Life at home was getting increasingly difficult and was spilling into my performance at school. My father had passed away and my mother was trying to earn enough to take care of three of the six kids still living at home which meant her involvement at home was almost non-existent.
I started working at 16 to help in whatever way I could to keep food in the house. My sister and I made sure our six-year-old sister was making it to and from elementary school. This struggle was not immediately clear to those in my academic world –
I was someone who slept through classes and was failing in almost every subject. Some staff assumed I did not care for school and was hoping to be kicked out. Maybe I did feel that way because I was having a hard time balancing school, work, and life. I was young, without proper direction or structure, and so overwhelmed that school was the easiest thing in my head was to forget about.
This is where the Resilience, Empowerment, and Natural Supports for Education and Work (RENEW) program first stepped in. My school guidance counselor, Kathy Francoeur, was very familiar with my home situation and was keeping tabs on my slowly falling grades. She explained that RENEW could create a structured plan to help me stay on track to graduate. The program also assigned a facilitator who would constructively be involved with my plan and goals while simultaneously working to advocate for me to the faculty.
An example of this was that my family was poor and did not have a computer. Some classes required assignments to be typed up with a “no exceptions” policy. I was failing classes because I did not have the means, nor the time, to type the assignments and none of that was communicated, so I just took a failing grade. Once the RENEW program had its wheels in motion, my facilitator explained to the teaching staff why I was having difficulty and the school made an exception. One of my class blocks became a study hall specifically used for typing these assignments. My facilitator was Allen Storms, a teacher who saw potential based on the work I did in his class. He often spoke to me about joining the military after high school. He took a personal role in showing me the long-term goals of life and that I might not see the surface from the situation I was drowning in, but if I stayed on track, I would soon be able to breathe.
RENEW surrounded me with a team that understood where and why I was struggling and presented me with a feasible plan that helped me to graduate on time. My team also worked on teaching me fundamental time management through the use of short- and long-term goals. I went from failing almost every class to being on the honor roll, to effectively planning the next steps of my life. High school ended, adulthood arrived, and I cut contact with my support team. As anyone who has ever turned 18 knows, I knew everything, could handle anything, and did not need advice.
That didn’t work out. After some bad decisions involving the police, I thought my door to joining the military was barred shut. I went a few years without a roof over my head, and it felt like everything that everyone worked for was a waste. I still had Kathy’s number and I reached out. I needed help. I needed goals, and I needed support. Without hesitation she agreed to meet up and we started building a new plan that revitalized hope for my life’s direction. At Kathy’s suggestion, I started working with the UNH Institute on Disability (IOD). My role was to speak on how RENEW helps provide direction for struggling youth. Allen became involved again and encouraged me to pursue the military. Even though I was not sure if they would accept me with my legal issues, I gave it another try. In order for me to be able to join, I needed impactful professional references that demonstrated I was worth the Marine Corps’ time. From my work with IOD, I received great references that showed my
character development. The Marines allowed me to enlist.
One of my long-term RENEW goals from high school was to one day become a Sergeant and leader of Marines. Now, almost 10 years later, I am a Marine Sergeant who for eight years has actively served my country. I went from homeless to owning my own home. I have a successful and prosperous career; not just for myself, but for my family. I’ve helped members of my family with their own life directions and still fall back on the planning techniques I was taught in RENEW to be a more organized leader.
To those who are considering the program, stay committed. My plan was to join the military immediately after high school, but I lost my way and had to come back to those plans later through the same support that had initially tried to help me. Don’t ever give up hope that your plans are gone for good. My example shows how RENEW can have a lasting impact. It’s not just a program to get you through high school, but to ensure you are successful as an adult.
To the RENEW facilitators, understand from my example that there is always the opportunity to change for the better. I did not like RENEW at first; it seemed like added responsibility and I was stuck with a mentality that only saw the short term. As I look back now, I can fully say I would not be anywhere close to where I am today had it not been for the RENEW process. Even when I gave up on myself, my RENEW team never gave up on me. RENEW helped me see my potential for future success and how to not be held back by the failures in my past.
“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at begin to change.” —Author Wayne Dyer
DRC-NH, in collaboration with the UNH Institute on Disability and the New Hampshire Council on Developmental Disabilities, distribute a quarterly RAP sheet to educate community members and policy makers about the latest research, policy, practice, and advocacy issues affecting individuals with disabilities and their families.