Arreba's Story: Starting Anew

Arreba StaffordArreba Stafford served as a TechMission Vista Member at TechMission Headquarters in Boston, MA.

Prior to my arrival  at TechMission Boston, I had a hosts of challenges. Though I was a College Instructor, I had no health insurance because I was an adjunct [part time] instructor. In addition to not having health insurance, I was living on a substantially problematic income; though I was an adjunct instructor, I was grossly under-employed by my previous employers. Specifically, the income afforded to me did little to empower me financially. As if I could not have had any more problems, I had to move from my adopted home of Ann Arbor, MI back to my hometown of Detroit because I could not afford to live anywhere else.

While living in Detroit, I continued to work at a suburban-based community college. I was quite determined to either earn my Ph.D. in English Literature, or acquire a full time teaching position at the community college level. In an effort to accomplish this, I not only began studying for the GRE’s, I also put in an application to attend a local university's Ph.D. in Literature program; in addition, I applied for various full time positions at local community colleges. Though I knew the likelihood of acquiring a full time teaching position was minimal at best, I knew that in order for me to excel in the GRE’s, I would have to enroll in a class to better understand the fundamentals of the exam, or pay for individualized tutoring. Both options would have cost me a huge amount of money that I did not have, and there were no scholarships available to fund either of my choices. Thus, with the little money I had, I put it toward taking the GRE’s—with the intent to continue studying for it on my own.

All the while, I diligently kept up with my local university application. I had even succeeded in making a friend in the Admission’s department; she would often tell me about when the department members would meet and discuss potential applications, etc. I was very excited because I had already earned my Master of Arts degree, and had been previously published by the Meadowbrook Writing Project. I was also told that though the GRE’s were an application requirement, they were not heavily emphasized as a requirement for admission to this university.

Though I was excited about my previous accomplishments, as well as about the local university’s GRE admission requirements, my excitement was short-lived. Yet I did not realize how short lived it was until I was instructed by my contact person to call the local University’s English Department Head.

When I contacted him, he was not interested in speaking to me over the phone; for this reason, I had to set up an appointment through his secretary to speak with him. When the Department Head and I finally touched base with one another, I was told that I would not be admitted into the Ph.D. program. When I asked him why, he told me that I simply did not fit into their department because I did not “have what it took” to earn a Ph.D.

I was dumbfounded because I knew—as I now know—that I was capable of not only earning a Ph.D., but of teaching undergraduate students. I had not only previously earned a Masters of Arts in Literature, but had also dedicated myself to teaching undergrads at my graduate level alma mater and at various community colleges; I had also written an assortment of analytical papers and short stories in an effort to build my academic credibility. Yet when I told him all of this and more, he informed me that the efforts I put forth were futile because they did not prepare me for Ph.D. level academic work. 

I could not believe it; who was this man to say that the degree I earned—not to mention the experiences I acquired—was not reputable enough for the local university I was applying to?  I told him that, then immediately stormed out of his office.

Nonetheless, it was a conversation that deeply affected me. I not only failed to study for the GRE’s and performed horribly on them in the process, I also began to act out by hanging out with a young man that was not equally yoked to me. He and I had a passionate, yet dysfunctional relationship that nearly destroyed me. I not only tried to kill myself twice while involved with this man, I also began to do things that were not in my nature to do. Overall, he and I were involved with one another for three years, but the third year proved to be the most destructive—so destructive, that I had to quickly look for a way to reclaim the love I had lost for myself and my career.

The answer came to me in the form of TechMission. Per an aunt’s premonition that I would find a more lucrative job through, I applied for an intern-level grant writing position.  However, it was not until I was contacted for an interview that I was told that my position would be funded through AmeriCorp VISTA. 

In response to this newfound information, I became an AmeriCorp VISTA quick-study, learning everything I could about this government funded program. As I read over the benefits and guidelines related to joining this program, I first noticed that the pay was not all that swell. However, I would have health care (at last) and rent assistance. I would also have the option to either get paid with an end of the year stipend, or accept an Education Award that could help me pay back my defaulted student loans, as well as in going back to school to earn my Ph.D.—a dream I still harbored despite what was said to me by the local university's English Department Head. Further, I knew that becoming a VISTA member would empower me to break away from the dysfunctional romantic relationship I was involved in, since I would be moving to another state. Not only could my VISTA involvement prove to be the remedy I needed to break away from everything that seemed to be going wrong in my life, it would also provide me with an opportunity to live in a state that was more progressive and supportive to the needs of minorities and the working class—both of which I am a part of.  

Yet upon accepting the position, I found out that I was pregnant with my first child. Because I was a bit overwhelmed by the news, I did not tell my family about my pregnancy because I knew that they would not allow me to relocate to Massachusetts. My mother had her suspicions nonetheless, since I began to earnestly eat Raisinettes and McDonalds.  I also would regularly become nauseous and often stay in the bathroom as a result of it.  However, because I never told her about my condition, she never pressed the issue and allowed me to pack up my truck and start a new life in Boston, Massachusetts. 

Though I later suffered a miscarriage because I had to handle my relocation efforts myself [this included the move, the driving, and the finding of affordable housing], I am very grateful that I joined TechMission--and grateful that I am also serving my country in the process. TechMission has given me an opportunity to not only relocate, but to start a new life in a more progressive state. I now realize that because I joined forces with TechMission and AmeriCorp VISTA, I can earn my Ph.D. [I decided to accept the Educational Award] and live, work—and eventually excel—in an environment that keenly nurtures my talents and skills.