When Bryell StClair thought about going back to school she was overwhelmed at the thought of figuring out financial aid -- something she knew she would need as a single mom who was living off food stamps.
"I was at a place where I couldn't afford to take care of my kids, and I was terrified of financial aid and all of that stuff," said StClair.
But she went to an informational meeting at Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC) in York anyway and found out the process wasn't as daunting as she had feared.
"I even had to borrow money for the application fee," StClair recalls.
Now, two years later, she is graduating from HACC on Tuesday with her associate's degree in social sciences and heading to Bucknell University on a full scholarship this fall.
"The mindset of poverty is that you won't get out of it, and that the American dream might be for other people, but it might not be for you," said StClair.
"There's lots of opportunities to start taking small steps away from poverty. For me that was going back to school and feeling like I had a voice and I wasn't just a statistic or
another kid in line at the food stamps office," StClair said. "And taking those small steps has led to larger opportunities that I might not have had if I had not taken that risk."
Leadership role: StClair was a member of HACC's honor society and served as president of the Student Government Association, helping with college events and creating initiatives and programs on campus.
"Our student population is older and usually single parents, so I've been responsible for finding out the needs of our campus and advocating to make sure those needs get met," said StClair.
She said there is a 23 percent poverty rate on campus, so the SGA organized several food drives and free food events.
The average student at HACC is a 27-year-old female head of household, which is exactly what StClair was when she began taking classes.
"It's tough. I'm lucky to have a family that's supporting me," said StClair. "I've looked at college as my career, so I try to do as much homework during the day as I can, so I can spend time with my kids when I'm at home. My oldest daughter and I often do homework together."
Her plans: StClair, who currently lives in Jackson Township, will relocate to Lewisburg, where Bucknell University is located, with her two daughters, Genevieve, 8, and Isabella, 5.
She plans to major in sociology.
"I've always wanted to work with people, but not in a completely conventional way," said StClair. "And when I had a sociology class, that gave a language to all the things I thought I didn't have words for. Sociology is kind of the place that it all came together for me."
StClair said she would love to come back and teach at HACC someday.
"I think it's important that people are aware of the HACC York campus," said StClair. "It's one of the best kept secrets that York has. It's a different take on a four-year degree that's more attainable."
-- Reach Chelsea Shank at 505-5432 or email@example.com.