Evelyn Madera was born in New York and lived in one of the poorest, gang-populated neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Her parents came from the Dominican Republic to pursue a better life. But with only an elementary school education, they couldn’t help her understand the value of an education.
“Being a doctor, lawyer or even leaving the neighborhood seemed unrealistic,” she said. “When you don’t have the information you need or any support, you can’t really see past what’s in front of you.”
After getting kicked out of high school for skipping classes she looked for help at local outreach programs in New York.
“They were all the same — full of unwanted students — discarded by society and misunderstood,” she said. “If it weren’t for a few caring people, I would have given up on getting an education.”
These personal life experiences — successes and failures — fueled her passion for helping others. Today, she works with students in the Seminole Campus Student Support Center as a Student Support Advisor. She remembers what it was like to walk in their shoes. She also remembers the people that made a difference in her journey.
Recently her office received an Innovation Grant, the Red Tape Free Zone, which will provide resources to help them connect with students at their point of need. Their mantra: it’s the people, not the program that makes the difference.
Jessie Demarest came to the Student Support Center to borrow textbooks. Evelyn connected her with a tutor and met with her every week to encourage her. Today, she volunteers in the office and is inspired to help others in the same way she was helped.
“It’s just amazing to me to see all this change in myself,” said Jessie. “The tutors help me understand, but the Student Support Center helps me feel like I can handle things. My grades sky rocketed and continue to fly. I’ve even decided to join the student government and plan to represent the Student Support Center there.”
The people who made a difference
Madera’s story is not unique. The same help she got from dozens of SPC faculty and staff when she was a single mom trying to improve her life serve as a reminder of how much of a difference one person can make.
Shirley Crumbly, Women on the Way
The Women on the Way program provided her with a much needed scholarship.
“The Director, Shirley Crumbley, has a big heart and is always reaching out to help the ladies in the program succeed,” said Madera. “She helped me with my essay for a Foundation Scholarship. Her guidance with that first scholarship enabled me to get many other scholarships along the way.”
Larissa Brown, Student Support Services Advisor
As Madera’s father’s medical condition worsened she struggled to hold it all together. Larissa Brown took the time to listen and help her find solutions.
“She was very connected to the resources in the community and was able to find me the help I needed to take care of my dad at home while I was away at school and work,” she said. “As a result, my dad had insurance, a nurse, health supplies, Meals on Wheels and a home health aide.”
When Madera’s father died during her final term before graduation, Brown and the High Achievers Club were there.
“I remembered feeling numb and calling Mrs. Brown,” said Madera. “She was so amazing — she took her time and helped me find a funeral home. She was the advisor for the High Achievers Club and they all went to my house to cook for me and my family after the funeral.”
Neil Keith, SPC Student Support Services Counselor
Testing in the Career Center indicated that Evelyn should consider a career in counseling but she was unsure as she was leaning more towards becoming a college professor. She went to Neil Keith for advice.
“We talked about how I use to stand on the stoop in front of my building in Brooklyn and give little speeches on how gangs were bad and that they should get out of that life,” said Madera. “He asked me how I felt when I did that and that I should listen to that feeling.”
Soon afterwards, she became a peer mentor for SPC’s Summer of Success program where she practiced public speaking and developed lesson plans for student activities on time management, goal setting and organization. After volunteering as a peer mentor for several more terms, she realized she had found her passion.
“We have an obligation to acknowledge the responsibility and power we hold when a student is asking for our help,” said Madera. “We can always make a difference and even if you don’t reach everyone, one person that you reach may reach others and we may never know the true impact.”
Dr. Linda Hogans, Executive Director, Retention Services
When Madera, then a student at SPC, shared her dream to become an advisor with Dr. Linda Hogans, she told her it was possible but only if she would prepare. Dr. Hogans counseled Evelyn to research the requirements necessary to be an advisor and be ready when an opportunity came.
“Sometimes you meet individuals who are in high positions and the way they present themselves seems a little unapproachable,” Madera said. “But Dr. Hogans was far from that. She was so kind and I could tell she really was listening to me.”
While Madera is no longer a student, she continues to drive herself to learn all she can so she can help everyone that passes through her door.
“For my students I just hope that when they meet with me they leave with more answers than they have questions — that they feel empowered to succeed in school and in life,” she said. “I hope that they change the world.”