ACHIEVEability participant Tracey Morris, of West Philadelphia, holds her daughter Kristyn after her graduation from Community College of Philadelphia in May 2014. Morris recently graduated from St. Joseph is University with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice. (Photo courtesy of Tracey Morris)

ACHIEVEability participant Tracey Morris, of West Philadelphia, holds her daughter Kristyn after her graduation from Community College of Philadelphia in May 2014. Morris recently graduated from St. Joseph is University with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. (Photo courtesy of Tracey Morris)

by Sue Ann Rybak

— Part 3 in a 3 part series about ACHIEVEability

Six years ago, Tracey Morris, 25, of West Philadelphia, would never have dreamed she would be graduating with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from St. Joseph University.

At 19, she found herself homeless and pregnant taking refuge in a homeless shelter for pregnant women and their children in Darby after a domestic violence dispute left her no other place to go.

It hasn’t been an easy journey for Morris, but nothing in her life has been easy. She grew up in what she describes as a “dysfunctional family.” As a child growing up in southwest Philadelphia, her parents were both drug addicts.

“My mother was a crack addict and my father was a heroin addict,” she said. “My mom started using when I was in ninth grade.”

She said, thankfully, her mother, who now works as a behavior health counselor, has been clean for several years, now.

“I decided to go to a shelter because I didn’t think the environment I was living in [with her boyfriend] was safe,” she said. “I couldn’t live with my mom because she was staying with a friend and my dad was still using.”

Morris said thanks to ACHIEVEability, a nonprofit organization in West Philadelphia that seeks to end the cycle of poverty through education, she has come full-circle. On June 26, she finished her last class she needed to earn her bachelor’s degree.

“I was just recently offered a position at a youth detention center,” she said. “While I was in the program I started a CNA program to become a nursing assistant. The entire time I was in school I worked as a nursing assistant.”

Now that she met her goal of earning her bachelor’s degree, she is focused on providing a safe, stable environment for her 6-year-old daughter.

“I am proud of myself,” she said. “Now, I have a new goal – I want to buy a house.”

She said she couldn’t have done without the support of ACHIEVEability.

“ACHIEVEability was with me every step of the way,” she said. “I had times when I didn’t think I could handle it. They showed me that it’s OK to feel that way. You can’t always be comfortable. Success is not built by staying in your comfort zone.

“My support system at ACHIEVEability is awesome. And it’s not just at ACHIEVEability – they helped me create a support system with my family.”

She added that her coaches provided her with the tools and resources she needed to become a better parent and student.

“Their parenting classes really helped me with co-parenting,” she said. “I had issues with my daughter’s father. I didn’t like my daughter’s biological father because he used to put his hands on me. I was very bitter from that. I had to learn whatever happened in the past is in the past. And now today, we can co-parent. We can talk about things, and if we don’t agree, we can put them down and come back and talk about it later.

“I never felt alone in ACHIEVEability. At ACHIEVEability, I always felt like I had somebody in my corner. If I needed someone to go to court with me, they were there. If I needed my hand held with anything, they were there. It didn’t matter if I was doing good or bad.”

Morris said every three to six months, she would sit down with her counselor and reevaluate her goals.

“If I didn’t meet my goals, it wasn’t like, that’s it,” she said. “They worked with me to figure out what I could have done differently to meet those goals? Let’s re-attack this from a different standpoint.

Jessica Falk, Tracey’s family self-sufficiency coach at ACHIEVEability, said Morris is determined to achieve her goals.

“The biggest change I’ve seen in Tracey is her confidence level,” Falk said. “She has persevered through so many obstacles that she now knows that even if she fails at something, it’s not going to keep her down. Tracey is always talking about the future. In every conversation, we have, she brings up wanting to buy a home once she graduates from the program. She determined to make the best life for her and her daughter Kristyn.”

Harold Barrow, a senior coach at ACHIEVEability, agreed.

“I saw Tracey at her lowest point in her life,” he said. “She was coming straight from a homeless shelter and was a victim of domestic violence – she was on the brink of hopelessness. What I noticed most about her, through all the tears and despair, was her fierce resiliency about never giving up on her daughter.

In time, she overcame the violent relationship and started working through the intense ACHIEVEability program, which contributed to the awesome young lady and mother that she is today. One of the greatest awards of the work we do at ACHIEVEability is watching families reach their goals that were once beyond their wildest dreams.”

For more information about ACHIEVEability or to make a donation, go to www.achieveability.org or call 215-748-8800.

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