Opportunity to Serve•
Opportunity does not always knock on the South Coast communities of Massachusetts, which include a mix of scenic coastal towns and urban centers such as Fall River and New Bedford. A South Coast native, I have had my challenges in finding opportunity, even though I know that some of my friends and neighbors had it tougher than I did.
My parents grew up in the SouthCoast. Neither one attended college but they were able to make a decent living. However, the Great Recession hit my family hard and my parents told me that they had no money saved to send me to college. This news prompted me to seek out opportunities that would enable me to achieve this goal – a journey that has brought many rewards.
In eleventh grade, I called my local state senator’s office and out of the blue I asked for an internship. This cold call led to an opportunity that transformed my life – the chance to learn about and perform public service.
My call worked. My internship in the office of State Sen. Mark C. Montigny, a Democrat representing New Bedford who is currently Assistant Majority Whip in the Massachusetts Legislature, lasted four years and ended with the successful passage of legislation to create opportunity for others in Massachusetts.
I helped to write and support legislation that allowed college students to stay on MassHealth, a free health insurance provided by the state to low-income residents. Before the new law, students pursuing higher education were kicked off their state-funded plan and forced to pay for university health insurance out of pocket. This forced many students to choose between their health care and education, leading some to drop out of college altogether. By allowing students to remain on the state health plan, thousands were able to stay in school and finish their degree.
After speaking on a panel about my work, I was approached by a single mother who was fighting her way through college. She explained to me that this legislation allows her not only to stay in college, but also to provide more for her children. This experience further transformed my way of thinking about upward mobility and economic security and how to help others.
Running parallel to my years at Sen. Montigny’s office, I was applying to colleges. It was tough knowing that my parents did not have any money saved for me and couldn’t even co-sign a student loan. This forced independence made me seek scholarships. I applied for more than 50 scholarships, but only received one. Thankfully, it was an Endeavor Scholarship, a full ride to UMass Dartmouth, the only university on the SouthCoast. The opportunity to go to school without incurring debt has allowed me to focus on working for others. I have been able to help create workforce development programs and service- learning curricula, and work with small businesses to stimulate the economy, including the revitalization of New Bedford. I also research millennial civic engagement and serve on the University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees. This work has brought more opportunities and responsibility.
I take my responsibility to others seriously. My future career goals are focused promoting opportunity for those who have been less fortunate. By joining Opportunity Nation as an Opportunity Leader, I will be better equipped with the tools and data to further work for change.
As a coordinator for SouthCoast Serves, an organization that brings together 50 nonprofits in my region, I plan to promote the use of the Opportunity Index to help us identify areas for cross-sector collaboration, and to gauge progress on key indicators connected to opportunity. I am excited about the prospect of joining our local efforts with a national movement to expand upward mobility and close the opportunity gap in America, particularly for teens and young adults. I want every student in the South Coast to be encouraged to knock on doors of opportunity as I did and feel empowered to help others get ahead.