Alexus Miller – College Dreams Alumni

My journey with college dreams begins around the beginning of my junior year at hidden valley high school . (  A little about where I was at in life; I was helping my single mom care for a baby, after not living with her for 3 years, and we were really struggling to have a good relationship with her dealing with problems of her own and me trying to be a “normal” teenager.Then about a year went by and  my mom and sister became homeless and I was moving between my grandparents and my boyfriend’s house , and also going and seeing my mom and sister struggle on days I could make it to them, wishing that I could do something to help. Once I turned 18 a couple months before graduation, my grandparents kicked me out of their house and I moved in with my boyfriends family into his room.)
  School was an escape from my everyday life but I still felt a lot of responsibility, and so I would just go my first few periods or skip a couple during the day. I began having my grades slip and teachers and staff began noticing because I was always in honors classes trying my best to get a good education prior to this. 
I had heard of college dreams but I had no clue what they were about. I assumed they were a group of adults who were going to tell me that college is the only way to continue life after high school . Honestly, I had never thought about what college I wanted to go to, or ever taken it seriously. 
Then I began walking past the college dreams room and seeing that there were free snacks, so I entered. 
Kim was the college dreams adviser at the time and she was noticing I was out of class a lot and struggling . 
Then one day she stopped me in the college dreams office and asked how I was doing and if I would be interested in college dreams considering I was eligible. So I took her packet and then lost it and didn’t think much of it.. Considering my previous thoughts of what I thought college dreams was. So then I saw this same adviser because I was passing her all the time and she gave me another packet and told me .. just fill out these papers and well go from there.. And again i put the papers in the back of my binder and continued on doing what I had been doing.. So flash forward , months or a full year later I filled out the packet and turned it into Kim. She was probably in pure shock!  I finally had realized she was saying I needed to figure something out regardless of what it was , have an after high school goal and plan. And we did just that, She began to ask me what I was interested in and what my life was like and why I was doing school the way that I was. She was there just to help me, and cared about what I had to say. She was hugely sympathetic to me after I had given her a hard time trying to get me into her program, not knowing if I would do good or bad. She told me that I could do anything I wanted to put my mind to, but I would have to work for it and show up for them, and myself most importantly. 
Hair and makeup became my thing, every morning I would have a full face of makeup and hair done , that was the time where I had to relax in my day and I loved it. Kim told me to go for it, so we looked up every possible scholarship we could, and I wrote essays and applied for everything. She helped me figure out how I wanted to convey myself to these people who were going to help support me in my dreams and help me to reach my goals. 
I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford beauty school without scholarships so I hoped for the best in the meantime. 
So in the meantime Kim helped me stay on track. We decided I needed to find a job and start saving for college.  
So Kim told me about a program called WIOWA , it was a government funded program that paid for me to get started in a career they like by doing an apprenticeship. So Kim got a hold of a salon in town who wanted free labor! 
Kim then helped me get a grant to get me work clothes and she took me shopping for them. She helped me get into Kiwanis Student of the Month program as well for improving my grades and trying more, I got to be in the newspaper, and that helped me a lot  on applications. 
She came with me to do my interview to make sure the salon was a good fit for what I was looking for .  Enchanted salon was where I worked for about a year. They hired me after my program ended through WIOWA. I learned so much about the salon environment by doing that! It was so educational to see how a salon worked on a day to day basis and how much effort everyone put in to make the business a nice place to be. I ended up being the salon owners assistant/ salon manager. She showed me the ins and outs of how to run a salon, how to schedule appointments , I got to observe how to do nails, hair and waxing. I learned what it took to be professional in a work atmosphere, and built my confidence up by a lot by talking to people everyday. The salon owner was a huge help in building my confidence and stepping me outside of my comfort zone talking to people I didn’t know, and helping people feel good. The other woman who worked in the salon with me did the same, they were independent contractors who showed me that you can have your own business and do well for yourself. 
This is when Frank comes in to help me save money and learn to budget! Kim told me about a program called an IDA where I put in a certain amount of money and the IDA matched to help me save for college. Which in the future paid a huge chunk of my college tuition. Frank has a lot of patience and knows what he is talking about. He walked me through how to budget for my lifestyle and understood that I wasn’t going to be perfect right away. The program taught me to be patient with myself , because I realized saving money each month adds up!
 Frank also had a hairdresser mother who he would always talk to me about to encourage me that my dreams were a reality.

Then scholarship night happened.. I was nervous and excited and had no idea what to expect. I had never felt like a winner or like I was going to receive awards like other kids did for sports or good grades. This night was about me and what I had done to help advance myself, and I didn’ want to go at all. I remember feeling like I wasn’t going to get the scholarships even though I had done all the work I needed to and tried the best I could to write in a professional manner for my case. Kim ensured me I needed to go to this ceremony and that she would be there of course. Kids who I have been in honors classes with for years were all getting amazing scholarships and I was so happy to know they were advancing themselves because of how hard they worked over the years. Then my name was called up and I was given an award by man that I forget the name of but I remember his face like it was yesterday, he told me to keep working and doing my best and he told me I was awesome and awarded me with multiple scholarships from people who believed in me and my dreams.  I was so overwhelmed with joy for all the hard work I had done and sadness for the me who doubted myself. That is when the quote “the harder I work the luckier I get”, really sunk into me. The man told me a story of the stork eats a frog and the frog never stopped trying to get out of the storks throat and eventually pulls his arm out and strangled the stork, and he never gave up and the frog made it out alive. 
I hate showing my emotions because I feel like it makes me weak, but I couldn’t help but crying in that moment. People had vouched for me time and time again to make it so I could be here at this scholarship night, people who believed in me and were there to support what I wanted to do with my life, people who had never even met me. I was so blessed to be there and be surrounded by those amazing people. I didn’t realize how much of a community I was entering when I decided to fill out that college dreams application. 
Shortly after graduation I began beauty school ! Frank, Kim, Jen, Quin, and tons of other awesome people I met along the way helped me a ton to get me enrolled in Phagans School of Cosmetology, setting up payments with my scholarships, making sure all my money was being put to good use, and always treating me like I was worth all the things they did for me. Which was a bit of a challenge, considering I was one of their first beauty school goers, and they had to have a lot of patience to figure out how all the payments would happen, making sure I was going to go to school, and figured out how a regular college semester translated to Phagans. 
I  made it to beauty school, finished in about 2 years. Then I have been working in a salon in the town where I am an Independent Contractor, and working to support myself for the past year and a half! I have a savings account I use like a bill, and I know how to make a budget!
College Dreams always checked in on me and if I needed them I could stop by their office for any questions or concerns I had, and I know still till this day they would do the same. 
I was blessed to have these people in my life and I hope that more people can experience what it’s like to be around people who want the best for you and for you to love yourself. While helping figure out what that is to you every step of the way to the best of their abilities. College dreams changed my life, I don’t know where I would be without them, and I couldn’t thank them enough!