Belynda Fortune — West Bay Community Action
Belynda Fortune, a small woman in her mid-forties, with curly hair and a rapid-fire way of speaking, becomes strikingly serious when asked why she is working on completing her high school education. “It’s my time now,” she says, her eyes focusing.
“Raising my son was tough. I have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and I’m Bipolar, and my life was a mess,” she says.
After dropping out of high school in the middle of 11th grade, Fortune always figured she would go back to get her GED. But, her brief marriage in her early twenties, and the subsequent birth of her son, put her goals on pause. “Trying to raise him and being single—it was really hard,” says Fortune.
Belynda worked a series of low-wage jobs for many years—answering phones, or working in grocery stores and pizza shops–always struggling to make ends meet. But when her grandfather became ill several years ago, she discovered how much she loved caring for elderly people.
“I took care of my grandfather for four years when he was sick,” says Fortune. “Now I want to work in a hospital or a nursing home. I want to be a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) and take care of people, administer medicine—things like that.”
Through the years, Fortune had made several attempts to get her GED, but none of the programs were effective in helping her overcome her learning challenges.
“With all of those programs I enrolled in, the teachers didn’t teach us, they were just there to answer questions,” she says. “I tried ones at several local high schools and a few public libraries, but nothing seemed to work. I needed some extra help. I have a learning disability and am Bipolar, but I’m not typical. I don’t use my issues as a crutch. I want a challenge, but I still need help.”
After many years of frustration, Fortune discovered the Adult Education Academy at the Westbay Community Action Program through a Google search. The Westbay Adult Education Academy offers classes designed for non-traditional students like Fortune where students can earn their GED, prepare for college, or gain skills for employment. She learned that the program was supported by SNAP Employment and Training, and she was getting SNAP benefits, so she would be eligible.
Fortune attended morning classes Monday through Thursday, and is grateful she found the program. “The teachers here are all hands-on and actually teach the material. They aren’t there just to answer questions. Nancy, Andrew, Emily, and Donna in particular, and now Keri—they are all really helpful. You have an email address that you can contact them with and they get back in touch with you, even from home.”
Fortune enrolled in the State’s SNAP Employment and Training (SNAP E&T) program, administered by LISC Rhode Island (LISC RI) on behalf of the Rhode Island Department of Human Services. The program is designed to provide SNAP recipients with training, education and supports that help them successfully prepare for the workforce, and then works with the participants to find employment. LISC RI works with organizations that offer a wide range of opportunities for SNAP participants including skills training leading to industry-recognized credentials, adult education for all levels, and English for Speakers of Other Languages.
“And the thing about Westbay’s Adult Education Academy,” she says, her voice suddenly bright, “is the teachers all care. The students help each other. We help each other with transportation; we even bring snacks and juice. We know some people can’t afford it, so we all chip in. It’s like we’re a family. When people graduate, everyone goes to their graduation,” she says. “To be part of this group makes you want to come to school every day. We’re getting our GEDs for each other.”
Fortune has been working with Westbay for the past two and a half years, and has successfully passed the Science and RLA (Reasoning through Language Arts) courses. She is allowed to have unlimited time to take the tests, which she says helps a great deal.
“Back in high school, no one knew about ADHD. I was very quiet, and the teachers thought I just wasn’t interested. I could do the work, but I just couldn’t take the tests. Now, I get unlimited time to take them.”
Fortune plans to complete the Social Studies course in the Fall and the Math course in early 2018. At that point, she will have completed her GED and plans to immediately enroll at Community College of Rhode Island to start on her CNA certification.
When asked if she thinks she’ll finish, her eyes widened. “I’m staying until I get my GED,” she says. “I tried for so many years and nothing was sticking. The teachers at Westbay have helped me make a lot of progress. I’m not going to give up now.