Zachary's Story

SOWMA Executive Director Cheryl Opper with Zachary as he responds to a standing ovation after speaking at the Open the Door Gala 

Read Zachary's story as told by the Brockton Enterprise:  

 Zachary's speech delivered at the Open the Door gala on November 17, 2016 

               Good evening everyone. First, thank you for being here at such a wonderful event commemorating School on Wheels, an organization that has helped give those in need such great opportunities to succeed in their education. Of course, I myself would be one of those people.

             Let me begin by saying homelessness is not something we all imagine so accurately. Many would not imagine a child when hearing the phrase, “homeless person.” However, the situations surrounding this are all too real and serious. One of the most saddening things is that it tends to occur at no fault of the child, in situations they cannot control. That being said, I would like to share my story, my struggles, and my rising prosperity with the audience tonight, with the many opportunities and the support I have gratefully been given.

                       My experience with homelessness arose as a result of a lack of financial security and poverty. In my younger years, I lived among my mother, stepfather, and my brother. I never truly knew my father. I was born in Brockton, but lived in Arizona for five years during some of the golden years of my childhood and beginning of my teenage years. At some point in time however, my mother began to experience domestic abuse from my stepfather, and she decided that she would not remain and deal with such a thing anymore. So, my mother with her two sons, myself included, moved back to Massachusetts with little more than what we had in our pockets. Now during this time we were staying with a friend of my mother but we could not stay there forever. From here, we were able to find our way to a women’s shelter on Cape Cod. I that summer as some of the most grueling months I ever experienced. There were no means of transportation to travel far, we were financially restricted, ate the bare minimum due to the difficulty in job finding and having been moving place to place frequently, and lived in a space that was not insulated very well from the blazing summer heat. To add to this, you might imagine that there was not much to do. Unfortunately, at this point my grandfather became very sick, and there were few people my mother could rely on for transportation to see him. Unexpectedly, he passed away while we were trapped in this situation. We were all devastated. From here, I began to seriously question my situation and wonder what I could do in such a helpless place. I began to wonder what the key was that would allow me to escape. I would come to realize those things mainly as endurance, education, and support.

             After spending the summer in Cape Cod, at last we were able to secure housing in Brockton. This actually made me rather happy, for it was my hometown and I would be able to relive the good old days of when I was a child before I had moved. So, I entered Brockton High after my 8th grade year and had relatively mild years up until a certain point. I was just glad I had a place to stay, eat, and a place where I could focus on doing well in school. Up until now, I had a good idea about the importance of education and how it is a major end of poverty. With a free high school education, there is no reason not to take every full advantage and opportunity you can and rise beyond.

            During my junior year things turned for the worse, and things once again became difficult. My mother developed a medical condition, and within a matter of months became restricted to a bed, hardly to move. A little over three years ago when I was just 16 years old, she passed away from this condition, leaving my brother and myself as the only immediate family to remain together for that moment. As you can imagine, this was incredibly strenuous--to deal with losing someone that you have been through such hard times with for your entire life, and having few people in your life for a shoulder to lean on. At this time, I knew I was severely disadvantaged in my life. I knew that crying and complaining about what I had to deal with would change nothing, because at that time I thought I hardly had anyone except for myself. I had to pick myself up and do these things on my own, or at least try. That was the only option I could see.

            However, I now lived with my sister who had moved with her family back to Brockton from Kansas. Things were still difficult since she still has a family to take care of herself, but at this point I had nothing to complain about and only had gratefulness. It was also around this time that I met some of the wonderful staff of School on Wheels. My guidance counselor had referred me to School on Wheels, and I vividly remember my very shy and nervous past self feeling such joy; that I could receive support in my studies, to not worry about many of the financial struggles as a minor in high school.

            So, while away from school for two weeks to recover myself, I still worked on some assignments I thought I ought to do, especially assignments for an IT certification preparation class that I was taking. Despite the worst event in my life to happen, I had my first major accomplishment, becoming a certified entry level IT technician at age 16 a month after this tragedy. I will always remember my teacher for the IT class who always gave me encouraging thoughts; such as that I was one of his best students, that I am incredibly hard-working and that those things are what pay off in life. He could see I knew exactly what I needed to be doing. “The world is your oyster,” he always said to me, and my assuredness only grew from there. Within a few months and as a result of my first accomplishment, I had my second major breakthrough; a secure internship at the Brockton Public Schools IT Department. I now knew that with sheer willpower, the desire to succeed and with some support, such as support from that particular teacher, amazing things are possible.

            As I set my eyes towards university this idea became a little challenged. I’m sure you all are aware of the finances and sheer debt needed to be taken on in order to attend a college or university these days. Yet, a shining opportunity emerged in front of my eyes. Bridgewater State University, a school that many of my teachers praised so highly and my first choice of university was offering a scholarship for those impacted by homelessness, yet achieved academic success. I saw this as my chance. A nerve-wracking essay and interview later, I was notified of the life changing decision that I was chosen to receive the scholarship. Housing, tuition, fees and the room deposit are all covered by this scholarship, and books to a certain extent. To make it even more complete School on Wheels even offered and still offers to pay for uncovered expenses, such as school supplies, and any other necessary books. I now had all the tools I needed to truly succeed, and for someone like me who is so educationally focused, I felt like I was in heaven.

            As a Bridgewater State University scholar, I am flourishing. In my first semester, I received a 4.0 GPA as a Computer Science major and I began the process of discovering myself further. I would like to add that I love to learn things, it doesn’t matter what it is as long as I find it interesting. I love self-improvement. The summer before I started university, I had the goal to learn a new language. That language happened to be Korean. It’s vastly different from European languages and it has its own alphabet, so I thought it would be a challenging thing to take up. After making Korean friends to help improve my use of the language, I became more interested, and after attending a Korean culture event from BSU, I solidified an idea in me that I wanted to try studying abroad. This was never attempted before by a scholar, so I tried bringing it up to see what was possible. With support from School on Wheels and those at Bridgewater State, I have never felt that I am restricted to try new things, within reason. After conducting all the research and preparation in applying, it came to be indeed possible. Would you believe me if I told you that there was another amazing opportunity would be coming my way? Well, because of the grades I received in the first semester, I was nominated for a certain scholarship offered by the Korean government for those studying abroad. This included monthly payments which well exceeded room and board fees that I would need covered. These included compensations such as airfare, insurance. Well, after applying I received that scholarship, and because of that I spent the best year of my life studying abroad in South Korea.

            The food was simply amazing. The food culture there is that almost everyone eats out at restaurants for their meals rather than buying groceries and cooking from home and much of the food is served in a single dish that is shared among everyone eating. The food is very spicy and you will find certain uncomfortable but delicious treats such as grilled pig intestines. My favorite treat was ddeokbokki, a spicy rice cake dish. The scenery was also amazing. In Korea there are two sides, the very beautiful and rural side and the stunning and developed city side. Korea is a very mountainous country, and great for hiking. One thing that surprised me but also made me feel very at home was how hard working the people are. There is a particularly great emphasis on education in Korean society. I came to find that the people in Korea are very group oriented rather than individualistic (such as in the U.S.) in many aspects. In Korea, everyone loves to share the same fashion. Everyone loves to share the share haircut. But more importantly, everyone supports each other. Families are more careful and stay together. Friends are always close and eat out together every day, and so on. Relationships are close and remain that way throughout the years. This aspect is one that truly touched my heart. The homelessness and poverty rate in Korea is very low. A reason for that, I think, is because of the supportive nature that is such an important cultural aspect there, between both family and random citizens. Also of course, I made some amazing friends and some I will continue to know for many years to come. While there I also had the great experience of working as an English essay writing tutor.

             After my return to BSU, I became a vastly different person. I would describe myself as confident, open-minded, insightful, and even more independent than I was before. As of now, I am spending my new semester as a study abroad ambassador and I am in a program that allows me to get to know and assist international students on campus. Because of this, I was able to go on a whale watching trip and a trip to Washington DC for the first time. My GPA remains at around a 3.8, and I have made the decision to change my major. My major is now Physics. There are many reasons for this. Firstly, although I was doing well, I no longer am interested in computers. Now, I am interested in this fascinating physical world we live in. I want to dedicate myself to some greatly challenging work because it’s a goal that I can continue to work on throughout my life. Secondly, I love the university environment. I love learning, education, and teaching, and I want to a part of that. Therefore, if apply the determination I have used thus far, I definitely would go for a PhD. I want to dare myself and attain even greater heights than what I would from just graduating from university. This path is no doubt difficult, but I know within in me that with perseverance I can accomplish anything. However, it all began with support and opportunities.

          These days my brother is serving in the U.S. Airforce, and my sister recently graduated as a Dental Hygienist. I want to tell them, I am so very proud of you.

          The world is now indeed my oyster. When one takes the opportunities they are given, they stack up. A door opened is a door to leads to two more rooms with doors. You just need that first key. So please, assist to provide those who need the foundation they need to succeed. I want to thank my occupational guidance counselor from Brockton High for introducing me to School on Wheels, School on Wheels itself, Bridgewater State University and its wonderful people, and my sister for where I am and where I will be. These groups of people have been with me and supporting me throughout the years, and I say with confidence that they will always there for me. Thank you.













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