There is no "typical Grace student." Women attend Grace Institute immediately after high school or after their fiftieth birthday. Grace Institute students are women young or old, women with limited work experience or with a great deal of experience, women with good skills that need some refinement, or women who need to acquire basic office or computer skills.
Regardless of where they come from, Grace students are united by a wish to succeed, a desire to move ahead, and the genuine willingness to work hard to improve themselves. After finishing the program, Grace alumnae have found jobs and started careers at many types of New York area organizations including law firms, financial service companies, universities; hospitals, large insurance companies, schools, and many others.
Naudia Barton, Class of February 2009
Naudia Barton can vividly recall the sense of awe she felt as a 14-year-old Jamaican immigrant coming to New York City for the first time. “It was shocking,” says Naudia, now 33 and living in the Bronx. “I got off the plane at night and my relatives were there to pick me up. I remember driving on this big highway and feeling astonished. At the time I didn’t know the term ‘culture shock,’ but now I know that’s what I was feeling. “
Her transition from life in Jamaica to a new one in New York proved difficult for the teenager. Entering an American high school without any friends, support system, or understanding of what was expected from her was especially bewildering. At 17, Naudia became pregnant with her son. Feeling overwhelmed and out of place, she decided to drop out of high school, and instead obtained her GED. After taking two years to stay home and care for her baby, it was time for Naudia, at 19, to get a job that would support herself and her son. Although bright and hardworking, Naudia had few employment options as a young, single mother armed only with a GED. She found a job as a professional domestic helper and spent the next 11 years working without benefits as a nanny and housekeeper for various families.
But as children grew up and household needs changed, Naudia began to yearn for a stable job and a real career. Now that her son was a teenager and more independent, Naudia was ready for a change. “I thought to myself, do I want to try to start up with a new family or should I try to go back to school? I didn’t want to keep doing the cycle of domestic work,” says Naudia. “That’s when I decided to come to Grace. I figured, let’s give this a try and go for it. I wanted to prove something more to myself.”
In September 2008, Naudia was accepted into Grace Institute’s Business Skills Day Program. “At first I was frightened, because I had tried to go to college before but it didn’t work and I was scared that this wouldn’t work for me,” says Naudia. At orientation week, Naudia found reassurance and inspiration in the stories shared by alumnae who had returned to give advice to incoming students. “They told us that it was going to be tough, but worth it,” says Naudia. As she heard the other women talk about the challenges and rewards of the program, Naudia resolved herself to try. “One of the things I loved most about Grace was being able to come five days a week and sit in a classroom with other women. We were all working hard, but we also shared our experiences. There was this range of women from such a big spectrum and everyone was learning from each other,” recalls Naudia.
Naudia was soon flourishing academically and personally. After spending years in jeans and sneakers to take kids to the playground or to clean houses, Naudia loved dressing up for the program, perfecting her professional image, and learning the ropes of the corporate world. During her time at Grace Institute, Naudia also worked part-time at a software company based in Brooklyn. But with weak skills and little experience, Naudia’s duties were limited to basics like shopping and ordering supplies. The more she learned in her classes, however, the better she became at her part-time job. Her employers noticed and were impressed. Just before Naudia’s graduation in February 2009, the company offered her a full-time position. “Now I’m full-time, full salary, and with an incredible benefits package,” says Naudia. “Just knowing that if something happened to me, I now have insurance and that makes me feel secure. Having worked so hard and putting in all this effort, there are rewards at the end of it.”
As the software company has grown, so has Naudia. She now has more responsibilities at work, something that she eagerly looks forward to. “I’m learning more and that’s wonderful. I span anywhere from sales, to office management, to human resources, and more,” says Naudia. The increase in her salary has also been welcome. Naudia has begun taking classes at NYU’s School of Continuing Education to get a degree in anthropology. This July, she was also able to afford a two-week trip to Jamaica to see friends and family—the first time in 19 years. “As a domestic worker, I never had enough steady income to go back. It was amazing to finally do so,” says Naudia.
Naudia says her experiences have left an indelible mark. She not only developed solid business skills, but also enduring friendships with classmates. “I learned I wasn’t alone in the challenges I was facing in my life. We all had universal problems that we helped each other with. There should be a Grace Institute empowering women in every corner of the world,” says Naudia. “It was one of the best experiences of my life.”
Sophia, a 24-year-old single mom, had been on public assistance, in shelters with her young daughter, and without steady work for three years. She knew that she had to move herself and her daughter forward. Sophia recognized that she needed a position that provided stable earnings, stable hours, and decent benefits for both her and her daughter’s sake. When she came across a story about Grace Institute and attended an Open House, she says she was hooked.
Sophia came to Grace Institute with a strong focus. Despite many hardships, she studied hard, earned good grades, and graduated with a great job. Sophia’s time in the program brought lasting friendships as well—after Grace, she was a bridesmaid at a classmate’s wedding. Graduating Grace Institute, Sophia “realized for the first time that if I pushed myself, I could really finish what I start. It was a great feeling and great life lesson.”
Grace provided her the tools she needed. Today, Sophia works as an associate secretary at a large law firm. Living in their own apartment, she and her daughter are on their way to the future that Sophia imagined for them.
Although she had held various jobs in retail, Nicole, a 37-year-old single mother, and her three-year-old daughter lived in a shelter when she came to Grace. Nicole saw attending Grace Institute as a crucial step in getting things back on track. “It gave me an opportunity to see where I really needed to develop, and I felt productive because I had somewhere to go to every day. I was preparing for the real work world.”
Nicole worked hard, always had a good attitude and a bright smile, and impressed the faculty and staff. After the Grace Job Fair, Nicole quickly landed a temporary job, which soon turned into a permanent receptionist position at a marketing consulting firm. Nicole reports that her job goes far beyond answering phone calls. She is learning about accounts payable and receivable, and she manages schedules, appointments, and travel arrangements.
Along with her new job, Nicole reveals an even happier ending to this story: after living in a shelter for over a year and a half, Nicole and her daughter have a brand new apartment. “Grace did a wonderful job in preparing me for challenges in the office. I am very grateful for those lessons. It is because of Grace Institute and its knowledgeable staff that I am where I am today. Because your doors were open to me, I am back on the map and I have an opportunity to go to work and to grow. My best and many thanks.”
Margot came to Grace Institute after having had many jobs—and a bout with cancer that took her out of the workforce for five years, changing her from a woman who could provide for herself to someone whose savings were low and who felt nearly hopeless. For Margot, Grace Institute was "My last hope for aid in re-entering the workforce." Grace represented the possibility of having a full life again and overcoming the financial restraints her illness had imposed.
After Grace, Margot hoped to find a full-time job with a Wall Street law firm, get better healthcare coverage, live in her own apartment, and take a real vacation. Those dreams, along with her friends and her faith that things were going to get better, kept her moving forward and helped her graduate from Grace.
At Grace Margot not only picked up new computer skills, but also learned that she was still a very productive worker—just not quite as fast physically as she used to be. Her work experience also served her well when it came time to interview for jobs. Even though at 58 she was the oldest student in her class, Margot was the first student to be hired after the February 2007 Job Fair. Her dream came true: she landed a position as an administrative assistant with a Wall Street law firm, a job she still holds. Her job provides excellent healthcare coverage, and Margot has gotten her own apartment. And her vacation? She’s still planning that.