Students often come to the ACE program by way of another student or graduate. This was the case for Tiresia Martinez. While working as a security guard for the ACE partnership site Deliverance Evangelistic Church, Tiresia met Sylvester Harris, a beloved alumni and energetic advocate for the college program. Not a day went by when Sylvester didn’t talk with Tiresia about going to college. “Every time he’d see me he’d ask about my career interests and then exclaim ‘we have a degree for that!’”
Although she instilled a strong value for education in her children and maintains high expectations for their college journeys, Tiresia had not taken that step herself. It was when her daughter began receiving college acceptance letters that Tiresia again began to want a college education herself. The next time she saw Sylvester, she was ready and signed up that same day.
A busy Mom of three and primary caretaker for an elderly father, Tiresia knew she would need a strong support system to be successful in school while working full-time. She gathered her husband, sister, Mom, and best friend together for a family meeting and said, “This is what I’m going to need from you to make this happen. It’s going to take everybody.”
With plans to become a juvenile probation officer, Tiresia began classes in the criminal justice program. In order to manage the kids’ activities and her own, “everything was on a timer.” She worked onsite at Deliverance from 8 am – 4 pm then went straight upstairs for a quick meal (having prepared dinner for her own family the night before) and into class. On non-class nights, it was after everyone was settled and quiet for the evening that Tiresia did her studies and wrote papers.
After a strong start in the program, Tiresia received a very serious health diagnosis: Lupus. She had been experiencing symptoms of the disease for some time (fatigue, joint and muscle pain, hair loss), but her doctors had not diagnosed the condition.
At this point, Tiresia could have chosen to leave school and focus on the disease. A logical and understandable choice. But instead, she honored her commitment to herself to earn a degree, learning to manage her symptoms, ask for help when needed and push through the pain, even on class nights. Staff from the ACE program at Deliverance became part of Tiresia’s support team. “They were my rock.” They knew when she was having a bad day, and offered accommodations when possible, including helping her communicate with instructors on nights the flare ups were just too much.
Tiresia demonstrated extraordinary resilience and academic excellence throughout the associate degree program, graduating as a member of the academic honor society, Phi Beta Kappa, in 2018. The daughter whose college acceptance sparked her mother’s educational journey shouted so loud at graduation, everyone knew Tiresia fought hard to earn her degree. While celebrating this accomplishment with the Deliverance team, she was greeted with another exclamation of encouragement, “You ain’t stoppin here!” And she didn’t. Tiresia continued her studies and her fight with health challenges through a bachelor’s degree program at Chestnut Hill College, and graduated with honors in May 2022.
Tiresia has her own words of encouragement for those who also have to face life barriers on the road to a degree, “Don’t ever say what you can’t do. Set your mind on what you want. You can do it if you want to.”