Over 15 years after starting college, Aleesha Glover is more than ready to don her cap and gown.
At 19, Glover was an enthusiastic and involved sophomore elementary education major -- but after she was sexually assaulted, she went from the dean's list to withdrawing from class. She moved home to Pittsburgh and tried school again, but couldn’t focus.
"I had been so discouraged that school wasn't important anymore -- it was just a memory of what had happened to me," she said.
Glover began her career, got married, and had a child -- her daughter, Ariyanna, now 12 -- instead.
She became a retail makeup artist at Macy's, and ran the only million-dollar Estee Lauder counter in Pittsburgh. Then, she found another job she loved even more, as International Assistant Director of Admissions at The Art Institute.
Meanwhile, Ariyanna was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease, and Glover’s marriage ended. Then, after five years at The Art Institute, Glover was downsized.
She dove into temporary jobs to keep the roof over their heads, then decided to go back to school to pursue her real love: helping foreign students acclimate to their new home.
She enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh again, and completed a Summer 2016 session of GROW. In December, 2017, she will graduate with a degree in German Language and Cultural Studies. Now, Ariyanna is celebrating four years in remission, and her mother is looking for jobs again—this time as a college graduate.
Yolanda Henry grew up in foster care, where years of abuse led her to believe she was worthless.
Eight years ago, at age 28, to start with a clean slate, she moved here from Maryland all alone, with nothing but a backpack. For two years, she shared a room in a shelter, and took parttime classes at community college, while working days and nights at Family Dollar and Giant Eagle.
She took every opportunity she could to gain medical experience, working at clinics as a nursing assistant and technician and volunteering for the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force.
In 2012, Yolanda enrolled at Carlow University and sought scholarship help, with the goal of becoming a nurse. She continued to work long hours and studied hard, but could not shake the grip of the low self-esteem she had learned as a girl. She fell into a violent relationship: “the abuse I thought I deserved,” she said.
Then, she lost her job, which jeopardized her funding for school.
New Choices helped her stabilize, finding her scholarships and giving her the courage to leave her abusive partner. In May, she will graduate from Carlow with a BS in psychology. Nursing school is next.
“PA Women Work lifted me up over the cliff I was falling off of and showed me another way, a stranger lending a helping hand,” she said. “They showed me that it's not impossible to do anything you set your mind to.”
When Linda Portis, 60, isn’t sewing or making jewelry, she loves to read—especially authors like David Baldacci, who really knows how to write a great ending, she said: “The last 20 pages, he brings it all together.”
Portis, 60, is doing the same thing with her career. A grandma who spent four decades helping to support her family, Portis is now ready to take her hobbies—sewing and jewelry making—to the next level, with a friend’s marketing help.
Portis raised three children (now 28, 39, and 40), cared for ailing family members, and worked as a dental office manager, an accounting clerk, and a customer service representative, and spent two years at CCAC studying business accounting in 2013.
She signed up for 3 Cups of Coffee in July 2015, and her mentor, Christina Wortzman, helped her rework her resume—“She tore it up!” Portis said, laughing. Portis went on to complete New Choices as well.
Then, she went back to job searching, but in interview after interview, she felt ignored because of her age.
“They just don’t say it, but it’s there – they feel like, ‘Who wants to work with their mother?’” she said.
But Portis pressed on. This summer, she landed a job as a receptionist at Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh.
Now, she’s considering where that might take her down the road -- as well as how she can harness those years ofaccrued business skills to help her creative projects take off.
“It just makes me happy to see things go from nothing to something – it fascinates me,” she said.
As a working single mother in school, Gera Turner struggled for years to support herself and her son, Jayden.
Gera was 23 in the fall of 2005 when she found herself pregnant and suddenly partnerless. Gera first moved in with her mother, then into Sisters Place, a single-parent shelter. She gave birth to Jayden, now 10, who has autism, in May 2006.
For over two years, Gera was both a CCAC student and the single, full-time working mom of a special needs child. She raced to finish school work, show up for shifts as a housekeeper, and ferry Jayden between childcare and therapy appointments.
There were many late nights spent waiting for buses alone in the cold, and many scary walks across huge, deserted parking lots in the dark. Her grades sank, and she was exhausted.
“I wanted to be a college graduate -- I wanted to finish something, so my son could look up to me,” she said.
When Gera’s mother passed away in 2011, Gera was more motivated than ever to complete New Choices, as her mother had done.
In New Choices, Gera transferred from CCAC into the Bradford School in Pittsburgh for dental assistance, where she graduated this year with an Associate's Degree and is now eligible for her PA State License.
Today, she works at Katsur Dental and Orthodontics as a dental assistant, and would like to go back to school to become a hygienist.
“I am thankful that I now have direction, and am a better person than I was before,” she said. “I finally found my passion.”
The Yvonne Zanos Women of Courage awards are presented in memory of our celebrity host,