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The Road to a College Degree

By Michele Learner
September 2010

“My goal is to work with low-income and homeless families,” says DeEtte Peck, a newly-minted registered nurse (RN) in Portland, OR.  “Because I know what it’s like – I’ve been there.”

Bread for the World first met Peck when she appeared in our 2007 Offering of Letters video to explain the importance of a strong Food Stamp Program. The video shows Peck in the supermarket with one of her two daughters, determined to stretch the family’s modest food stamp benefit to afford healthy foods rather than empty calories. Later, she’s on camera at home cooking and discussing some of the realities of raising children while working at a low-wage job.

Getting the education needed for a better job was always another focus of Peck’s considerable determination. And this spring, it paid off.  “I’ve been working toward my bachelor’s degree in nursing since 2001,” she says. “So it took way longer than it’s supposed to. But I got there in the end.”

Peck says her journey began when she enrolled her daughter in Head Start. A program for Head Start parents, Transitions, was offered at the same time. “Joining Transitions was one of the best decisions I ever made,” she recalls. “The focus was on how to fit school into your already busy life and how to choose a career that will work for you and your family. …  Before, people had encouraged me to go to school and said I would make a good advocate. But until I was in the Transitions program, I just didn’t have the tools to make it work.”

Peck applied for a scholarship specifically for students over 25 from a family foundation in Oregon. She didn’t win a grant on her first try, but she succeeded the following year. The scholarship program meets 90 percent of recipients’ financial need through the completion of their bachelor’s degrees.

For Peck, the nursing degree means she doesn’t have to hoard food for the end of the month. She can eat healthier, with more fresh vegetables and fruit rather than processed foods. She can qualify for a car loan so she has a reliable way to get to work.

DeEtte Peck appeared in our 2007 Offering of Letters video

Bread for the World first met Peck when she appeared in our 2007 Offering of Letters video to explain the importance of a strong Food Stamp Program.

She has a holistic view of nursing, noting that hospitals, though vital, can often only offer a band-aid solution. Primary intervention – keeping people healthy and out of the hospital in the first place – has a longer-term impact.

Peck emphasizes that when people are ready to step forward and continue their education, there should be a way for them to do it. “People complain about lazy people who take advantage of programs. But if not for those kinds of programs, I would never have been able to do it. I’m an investment – and taxpayers are going to get a good return.”

She speaks with pride of her two daughters -- Mikyla has just started college and Harleah is doing well in high school. Peck wants to make sure that they have an easier time than she did.

“I hope that my story gives people the idea that they don’t absolutely have to be stuck,” she says. “It is not easy to escape from poverty, but it can be done. A quote that I keep in mind is: ‘Don’t be afraid of baby steps. Be afraid of standing still.’”

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