Getting through four years of college is a challenge for anyone, but for kids like Caleb Simmons, it seemed nearly impossible.
Caleb didn’t even get into the University of Northern Texas in Dallas the first time he applied. Once he did get in, though, his entire life seemed to collapse around him just as he was trying to find his footing at school. When his family lost their house during his freshman year, Caleb found himself homeless.
“At some point, I couldn’t go to class. I really was about to just drop out,” he said. “We lost our house. I had nowhere to stay. I had no car at the time.”
Caleb describes that first year at UNT Dallas as a whirlwind of traumatic events. Even the simple question of “where do you live” caused anxiety because he had nowhere to call home. He says he missed a lot of classes because he had nowhere to stay and no mode of transportation.
Finally, out of sheer desperation, Caleb turned to the school administration for help. That’s when he met JoAnn Chapin, a Student Solutions Specialist on campus who made it her mission to help the young man find his footing.
JoAnn found a faculty member who agreed to let Caleb stay at his home. Luis Franco is the university’s Director Undergraduate Recruitment and Admissions, and he and Caleb formed a close bond after the student moved into his spare room. Luis says his kindness was just an extension of the job he does.
“Our staff members see a lot of these students as more than just a number, a face in the classroom or in their office,” said Luis. “We know that without addressing the whole student, and their whole situation, they’re not going to be successful.”
On the weekends and on school breaks, Caleb spent his time with JoAnn and her children, growing so close that they now consider one another family. “He’s definitely like a son to me,” JoAnn said.
And four years after hitting rock bottom, Caleb not only graduated, but he was asked to deliver a speech to his classmates at commencement! He used the opportunity to thank his mentor and his new “mom,” JoAnn, who sat front and center in his family section that day.
“I’m proud to get to sit in his family section and me and my kids get to sit there and watch him graduate,” said JoAnn. “Caleb’s been a blessing to me ever since I met him, and I’m just thankful that he’s in my life.”
During Caleb’s graduation speech, he called upon those dark days early on to convey a simple message to his peers: “No matter how much poverty, or unfortunate circumstances a person can be put in, they can still make a better life for themselves. Opportunities can happen if you go for them.”
His next goal is to work for the college that helped him through his toughest times as a full-time recruiter so that he can encourage teens living in poverty to reach for their goals, as he did. His ultimate aim is to end the cycle of poverty that kept him down for so long. “By breaking it, I mean erasing it,” he said. “There will be no poverty in my family.”
He remains close with his new mother, JoAnn, and says his life motto is the simple mantra: “Keep moving forward.”
Caleb’s message is so important. When there’s a will, there’s always a way! It’s also important to know when to reach out and ask for help. If Caleb had not gone to the UNT administration he never would have met his new family or found a mentor to help lift him out of homelessness. Sometimes asking for help is the ultimate display of strength and courage. Congratulations, Caleb!
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