Program Participant

From Homeless to College Student

Bronwyn (who uses the pronouns they/them) grew up in the Las Vegas area in dysfunctional home in which they experienced years of abuse and neglect. When they were 18, they moved to Alaska, where they had extended family.

Unfortunately, Bronwyn discovered that the toxic environment that they thought they had escaped had run deep in their family, forcing Bronwyn to pull up stakes again. “It was an unhealthy living situation,” they said. “I was told to find another place to live within a week.”

With two backpacks of their belongings, Bronwyn moved into the emergency shelter at Covenant House Alaska’s Youth Engagement Shelter in Anchorage. They were accepted into a transitional living program there, and then, after finding an educational institution that fit their educational goals—Holyoke Community College—they discovered CHD’s Transition to Independent Living (TILP) through an online search. Bronwyn was happy to find that TILP could provide them with housing and services in Springfield for nine months while they began studying in HCC’s STEM program.

TILP provides placement and casework support to youth aged 17-22, most of whom are aging out of foster care, and places them in CHD-leased community apartments throughout western Massachusetts. With a trauma-informed perspective, TILP caseworkers promote these young people’s efforts toward stability and self-sufficiency, helping provide them with daily living skills, and supporting vocational and educational endeavors, fiscal responsibility, and community connection.

Bronwyn has high praise for their CHD caseworkers, including Jean Rogers—who had originally reached out to them—and Taryn Sears. “I was honestly considering living in a homeless shelter while attending college if I hadn’t found an agency that could help me with housing,” said Brownyn. They credit TILP and HCC’s Thrive Center, a program that supports the college’s most vulnerable students, with helping them get state residency and fill out applications for SNAP food assistance benefits, as well as providing tax preparation help and assisting them with applying for health insurance.

Through a state-sponsored pilot program that provides free campus housing and meal plans, Bronwyn and other students who are struggling with homelessness and food insecurity attend HCC while living at Westfield State University and enjoy free public transportation from Westfield to Holyoke.

Bronwyn recently delivered a presentation for HCC’s STEM program to inform students how a STEM career can lead to financial stability—as well as how to navigate college with free resources and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid program. “There are a lot of students who are in the same situation as mine,” Bronwyn said at the presentation. “A study was done at HCC in 2020, and of the 5,400 students who participated in the survey, 50 percent experience food insecurity, and 56 percent experience some kind of housing insecurity.”

In January, Bronwyn will transfer to Westfield State University to pursue and degree in physical therapy. They are a far cry from the situation they were in before they had gotten help. “Back then, I was pretty stressed out,” they said. “I was trying to figure out everything on my own—how to attend college and find another place to live. I was really happy that someone from CHD reached out to me.”