United Way of the Plains

College Student Achieves Goal After Experiencing Rough Childhood

CLASSSierra grew up with a single mother who worked full-time and attended classes. She learned how to care for herself at a young age.

“I’m sure people would think it was crazy or insane, but it was all I knew,” said Sierra. “Once I became a little older, independence played a huge role in my life.”

As a child, she struggled with homelessness; however, at times she didn’t realize her family was homeless because they would go on “camping trips” or would stay with her grandparents or family friends.

“I wasn’t homeless as in panhandling around on the street because I’ve always had people to take me in, but I’ve never had a place to call home,” said Sierra.

Falling Behind
Due to the frequent moving, Sierra was homeschooled and often didn’t have babysitters while her mother was away at work or school.

After years of being homeschooled, the transition to attending a high school was difficult for Sierra.

"I was so terribly shy from being isolated that I would never tell anyone that I wasn’t ready [for high school], so I was horribly failing,” she said. “It was hard to play catch-up, but it made me have good work ethic because I had to work ten times as hard.”

Sierra knew she wanted to go to college, but didn’t have the resources to get there. That’s when Lynn Gilkey, the founder of CLASS, reached out to her and provided connections.

“I was in the counselor’s office every day with my advisors because I really wanted to go to college,” said Sierra.

Caring Ladies Assisting Students Succeed (CLASS) is a mentorship program for high school girls. It helps girls who are burdened with adult responsibilities to help them to commit to their education. The United Way funded program promotes positive self-esteem, character building and academic success by conducting weekly and monthly workshops and mentoring sessions.

CLASS provides resources and life skills for girls, like planning college visits, job interview skills and workplace preparation. These resources cultivate and instill the program’s core values of academic achievement, integrity, caring and teamwork.

“CLASS is something that is rare and changes lives because it leads students to succeed sooner with a more confident mind-set,” said Sierra.

Future Goals
Sierra is a sophomore at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. She is studying policy analysis and management, earning a minor in inequality studies, and is a pre-law student.

“CLASS was a big part of my life,” said Sierra. “I would like to try to get involved in something similar to CLASS or even start a small branch at my school because people loved the program and it would also be good for college students.”

United Way is proud to fund Caring Ladies Assisting Students Succeed. It is one of many local programs we fund in the area of education. We also fund local programs that address local needs in the area of health and income. With a strong education, a person can obtain a job that allows them to become financially stable and gain access to a healthy lifestyle. Learn more about how United Way is making an impact in our community at www.unitedwayplains.org/about-us.