Saundra Haddix started out as an intern at Pathways for Women in Lynnwood, a YWCA-operated emergency shelter for mothers with children and single women. She was 50 years old.
She had enrolled in Edmonds Community College and like many students she struggled to balance work, school and her family life. But losing her balance was more dangerous than it is for most; it meant potentially falling back into homelessness.
“It’s always been hard because I started out as a teen mom,” Haddix said. “Even when I thought I was stable, stability was always sort of precarious stability. I had housing and then the housing would be jeopardized for one reason or another. It always seemed like it didn’t take much for things to just sort of implode.”
But Haddix fought to stay in school, despite not being eligible for financial aid and struggling with a disability caused by a stroke she suffered years earlier. Haddix got some help from the state Department of Health and Social Services through the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. Still, she had to work full-time.
A second chance
She also applied for scholarships. One day she got an email congratulating her for earning the Hernandez-Foy Second Chance Scholarship from the community college. The scholarship grants two awards for students with histories of homelessness or incarceration.
The scholarship was established in 2013 by Edmonds Community College President Jean Hernandez and her spouse Erin Foy. This year, the awards went up to one thousand dollars each.
“One-thousand dollars might not seem like that much but for some of our students if they are working part-time they make 2k a quarter,” Hernandez said. “So that allows them to not work as many hours, to really be able to hunker down on their studies.”
Finances are the biggest barrier for students in general, Hernandez said. But the obstacle is harder to overcome for students who have been homeless or incarcerated before.
“They haven’t been employed before so unless they can have their families support them, it can be very difficult,” she said.
The Edmonds Community College Foundation has launched a scholarship endowment campaign that will run until December 31st when Hernandez retires. She hopes to raise one hundred thousand dollars to keep awarding both scholarships for years to come. But Hernandez says it’s not just about the money.
“They receive money for telling their story and for somebody wanting to see them be successful,” Hernandez said. “And I think it builds confidence. I do think that a lot of it has to do with the belief of them being successful, and they are. You know it’s amazing to me the way that lives have changed.”
Haddix was surprised to receive the scholarship. But to her it was more than just a check. She says that after years of being ignored on the streets when she was homeless she finally felt seen.
“I believe that I didn’t go through all of the things I have been through for no purpose,” Haddix said. “It all had to have a reason. And if nothing else it was so I could take my life experience – everything that I had been through – and offer it up to someone else.”
Moving ahead, with honors
In 2016, Haddix graduated with honors with Associate’s Degree in Social and Human Services. Now, she’s is a case manager at Pathways for Women for 14 clients in housing who come to her office for guidance in their search for social services. She also visits them often and pushes them to be present in their communities.
“My job right now is to make sure that the people that I care for, my clients, know that there’s somebody out here that’s gonna do for them, that’s gonna go to the wall for them,” Haddix said. “I don’t care what it is. If you call me, I got you.”
But Haddix says she does not plan to stop there and is looking for ways to go back to school again.