Ever since experiencing homelessness, Ashley Woods had big dreams of running a homeless shelter in Jacksonville, Florida but a series of unexpected illnesses made completing the Business Office Administration program at Florida Career College a big challenge.
In all, it took three years for Ashley to reach her goal but in the end, she was granted a position at City Rescue Mission, a perfect fit for her future.
“I was determined to finish,” she said. “I wanted to start a homeless shelter and I knew education would be good for me. I needed to know what I need to do as far as getting my foot in the door, networking, and everything else.”
Ashley’s journey through school started in Orlando in July of 2019. At the time she had one baby and was tired of working at a fast-food restaurant. She was looking for a way to get started in a new career and figured a business diploma would help. Then one morning, she couldn’t see.
“I was trying to make it to classes when I could, but it was hard,” she said. “I fell back in class for a little bit, trying to get myself together. In the middle of that, because I couldn’t work, we ended up losing our place… so we moved to Jacksonville.”
‘THEY NEVER GAVE UP‘
Ashley returned to school at Florida Career College after several months in Jacksonville. This time she was nearly done with her classes and preparing for her externship—but she got sick again. To her surprise, she was pregnant. Throughout her pregnancy, she dealt with preeclampsia and eventually gave birth to her baby at only 30 weeks.
“I couldn’t go back to school now with my baby in the hospital. She was not doing good,” Ashley said.
As her baby went through several surgeries and the family was forced to move again, Ashley put school on the backburner. The staff at Florida Career College never stopped checking in.
“They never gave up,” Ashley said. “Any other school might have thought ‘Oh, she didn’t come back? Oh well.’ But I always received calls asking me how it was going and if I would come back to finish my program. If there was anything I needed I could let them know.”
Just as Ashley was figuring out how to care for her special needs daughter and a necessary move to a different home, she discovered that she was pregnant again.
“When we got to our new place I said if I don’t finish now, I’m never going to finish,” she said. “I called up the school and said I’m ready. It seems like every time I try to finish something comes up. I want to show my kids to keep going. You can’t blame life for not expanding yourself.”
‘YOU CAN’T STOP BECAUSE LIFE HAPPENS‘
This time, Ashley remained focused on her goal and let her past motivate her.
“I was homeless once,” she said. “When I was pregnant with my first son, I didn’t have anywhere to go. Me and his dad would go from a friend’s couch to a friend’s couch and a hotel here or there. We had nowhere. When I stayed in Jacksonville years ago right after high school, I use to catch the bus and downtown there was a building that had been abandoned. I thought if I ever become rich, I would buy that building and invite all the people. That’s my dream.”
Ashley’s externship placement at City Rescue Mission felt like destiny and she rose to the occasion.
“When Ashley came to me in the last lap of her journey, she wanted to be in a position where she could help people because of all she had been through,” said Sharon Davis, Career Services Specialist at FCC Jacksonville. “We placed her at City Rescue Mission. After a few weeks, the extern coordinator called me and said Ashley was awesome and they wanted her at the corporate office, where she excelled even further.”
“She became a stakeholder right away,” said Ms. Davis. “You can hire an employee and they’ll come work for you, but when you hire somebody who has become a stakeholder, they’re more than an employee. That’s what I saw in her.”
Someday Ashley said she would like to return to school to take some accounting courses. She still has dreams of opening her own shelter so she is soaking up all the knowledge she can get right now.
“I feel like one of the questions I get asked was what would I say to other people,” she said. “Keep going. Life is always going to happen. Keep going. You can’t stop because life happens.”