1st Quarter, 2008
Dale E. Fridell Scholarship Winner
Empire State College
My name is Elizabeth Kramer. I am a re-entry mentally challenged women enrolled at Empire State College Center for Distance Learning, to obtain my Bachelor’s Degree with a concentration in Computer Information Systems. I am the mother of four, ages 22, 19, 16, and 5. My husband is disabled and unable to work. This leaves me to be the sole supporter for the family. My eldest two children have severe mental disorders and have made it a challenge for me to raise my household as “normal” as possible.
It’s been many years since I attended school, but it is necessary for me to change my career for something more challenging, stable, and with a better income. Even though it may be difficult due to my disability, ESC has been patient and willing to work with me so I can fulfill my dream to finish college. It was a complete and pleasant surprise to me that I was chosen to receive the Straightforward Media Fridell Scholarship award. Expenses, as everyone can relate, has been difficult. This honor will be put to good use to purchase the supplies necessary to complete my courses that are not covered by government funding. I want to thank the committee for choosing me for this award.
A Portion of Liz’s Essay:
After many years of being away, I have returned to college. Many obstacles were in my path that prevented what I should have earned a long time ago. I decided to go back to school for personal, as well as, professional reasons.
When I was young, I never knew that I had a mental disorder that had a major impact on my life. I am bi-polar. Not to use this disorder as an excuse for my decisions I have made in my life, but it did have a major influence. I struggle with each day, but with the determination to succeed I am able to fight my “episodes” in order to complete my goals that I have set for myself. I am attending college to obtain a Bachelor’s Degree with a major in Computer Information Systems. I have to admit it is very difficult, I have to fight a few setbacks while completing my courses but I seem to be doing well.
I intend to use my disability to help me further my goal to help the mentally challenged population in a unique way. I would like to emphasis the use of technology to benefit individuals that are mentally challenged. As time has progressed, an individual must have knowledge of technology in order to succeed in a career. Even though I may have a passion for helping those in need, I need to also think of my own situation and provide for my family. This is a main reason for the type of degree I have chosen to pursue.
When I first came out of high school (Patchogue-Medford High School, Medford, NY) in 1981 at the top 8% of my class, I did not go to a college. Instead I went to a business school to earn a Secretarial Certificate from Taylor Business Institute, Hempstead, New York, that gave me the foot in the door to the business world. It was the 1980’s. Times were different in my opinion for women such as me during this time period. I came from a very dysfunction family. I was abused, battered and psychologically not fit to attend school during this time period. I thought if I could get my foot in the workforce I could later achieve climbing the ladder by going back to school and intertwining on the job training when computers were just becoming the “new edge” in the business world. However, my set goals did not come about like I had planned.
I lacked self-confidence my previous plans were interrupted in 1983. I had suffered a major car accident which I went through the windshield of a car and had severe nerve damage throughout my body. To add to my troubles, I was mentally sick without confidence that I married in 1985 to a man I (like many women that were young) thought “I could change.” I went back to work in July of 1986 and had hopes to learn on the job at a company that build PC computers how to use them. They were, also, willing to send me to college to advance my knowledge. However, it did not come to pass.
I will just say I was a battered woman for many years. To boot, 9 months to the day of my marriage I had given birth to a mentally retarded daughter. It was difficult to hold down a full-time job. I would work on and off in the business, for a few weeks at a time in cashier, secretarial, and even selling Avon to make ends meet. My husband at the time would just up and quit jobs, go on drinking binges. This would continue on and off and hold me back from continuing my education and obtaining a career that I was capable of handling even with a mental disorder.
In 1988, when I finally was able to gain the courage to leave my ex-husband at a time when we were living bedroom at my family’s home, I found out that I was pregnant with my second child. I felt that I had no where to go, no one to turn to for help, and stuck in a marriage that was not healthy for me. My world had one disappointment after another. I was still in a marriage that my parents would say at the time that “You made your bed, now you have to lie in it.” Needless to say, you can see that I had no encouragement to move on.
However, I had one kind neighbor who let me know about government programs in our area that could help me. When they heard my plight ( I didn’t mention anything about the abuse I was under with my husband at the time), I was able to get on a program called “Section 8.” This program helped us get out of my parent’s home and into an apartment. I thought I was able to “come out of the darkness” sort of speak. That, too, was not the case.
In 1989, I somehow, found out about distance learning. I was able to go to school and learn some computer programs that would help me “keep up with the times” and later to utilize in pursuit into the workforce. We were on public assistance at the time. I was still being abused, unhappy, and becoming unhealthy much of the time.
However, in 1990, I was able to keep my secret unhappy home life gain employment with a company that manufactured airplane parts. I was able use the brief education at the time in order to get back in the work world. My children were in special school programs and in after care, in order for both my husband and I to work. It was not much money but it was the chance for me to gain independence, confidence, and hope. But yet again, that was not the case.
In 1991, the recession was becoming in full force at the time due to the war. I was doing well, making more money than my husband, very happy. Then, the same day I lost my job “due to the recession and cutbacks,” I found out I was pregnant!
I went through a very difficult time, physically, mentally, and economically. I had a high-risk pregnancy that I became housebound and could not look for employment and had to live on disability. Then even further we lived on public assistance. My husband had lost his job, would not look for another and just “drank and ‘smoked’” our money away. We went deep in debt.
In 1994, I decided to go back to college and thought I could take on paralegal studies at Briarcliffe College, Patchogue, New York. I completed quite a few courses but due to complications with my personal life, I changed my focus to business.
I put an enormous effort to continue my studies at Briarcliffe. Unfortunately, I was not able to complete my Associate’s degree. It was a very upsetting time for me not to finish what I had started, but the factors in my home only became worse. I had to put my education on hold in 1995 due to the fact that the domestic abuse by my ex-husband was becoming worse. I had a nervous breakdown, was placed in a psychiatric program and for the first time was on mental medication. I went to Skills Unlimited, which was a vocational rehabilitation a government program for the disabled. I took refresher courses in computer programs and at this time, “I finally saw the light at the very dark tunnel I was traveling in my life.”
In 1996, I became strong enough to leave my ex-husband. In 1997, I moved on, and found employment in a Customer Service/Sales position. I was earning a substantial income for about two year, in 1999, the company I worked for decided to “down size” and sold the “infant” company from the “parent” and had an unexpected lay off throughout the company. It took a few months but I was able to gain employment as a Contracts Coordinator that had responsibilities that was a combination of Customer Service, Administrative, Statistics, forecasting, and negotiations. I, also, took on a second job part time after my full time job and was doing quite well (financially, spiritually, and mentally. Needless to say, I was on the road to an independence that I never had felt before. Again, fate would intervene in a dark way. I had another car accident in 1999 that put my goals on hold for another few months. For a short time, I had gone on disability, eventually, losing my job. Even though I was still hurt and disabled physically, I did not let that stop me from going back to the work force. I was able to find employment again in a tile company. I re-married in 2000, and in 2001, I lost my place of employment due to a physical illness that I had surgery, which led to another mental breakdown.
When I was able to return to work, in 2002, I became pregnant, at the age of 39, with my present husband’s first child, and my fourth! In short, my present husband is mentally ill and physically disabled. In 2003, three days before Christmas, he had a massive heart attack. His condition is worse than mine, and as a result, I have been the sole supporter of a family of six. (Two of my four children are mentally challenged). Right now we raise our family together with the sensitivity of the handicapped.
In 2004, I became the sole provider for a family of six. My eldest daughter, 21, is severely mentally retarded. After many years at home, she just recently (2007) moved into a group home with other individuals like herself. I have 3 children that live with me and my husband; my eldest son, 19, has multiple mental disabilities; my youngest son, 16, has asthma, and my youngest daughter, 5 yrs, will always need her heart to be check for any abnormalities. My husband has been disabled since he was 29. He has not been able to work for six years and does not receive any income. I recently lost my employment, the same time my eldest daughter moved out.
At present, 2008, the only income we receive is from my Social Security Disability and my unemployment checks, which is not very much. However, in the eyes of the state’s standards, it is too much. This doesn’t help me when I need to pay for the utilities, rent, and to provide food for my family. I am a weekly visitor at my church’s food pantry. I am struggling with my mental disorder that challenges me each day while trying to find employment and continuing my education. Now, after several years, I have a different goal and outlook of what would be for my best interest.
I belong to a government program called The Section 8 Housing Voucher Family Self-Sufficiency program. This program gave me the push and the incentive to overcome my hurdles and forge ahead in the pursuit of furthering my education in order to find a better career. It is a five (5) year program that is the stepping stone for owning a home and getting off government funding. A little over two years from now, my goal is for my family to live in a home that we own. With the encouragement of Kara Funaro, of the Family Self-Sufficiency program, my family, and my ambition, I know that I can change my family’s situation than how it is at present.
I have worked mostly in the Administrative Assistant and Customer Service fields of business. These positions have provided a nice income. However, it is not enough for my situation. There are many careers in the Suffolk County Government that offer twice the amount of income that I can earn now. Many Civil Service opportunities offer a substantial income that is greater that what I have ever earned in the past or at present, as long as I have a degree. Once I graduate, I can qualify in a wide range of positions that I may be able to help others like myself by using the technological experience obtained from college, in combination with my personal and professional experience. I want to be able to encourage others with mental disabilities of what technology can do for them.
Briefly, my personal life had a major influence to continue my education. I had a family early in my life. As I mentioned previously, I have four children. Two of my children are mentally challenged. I have had first hand knowledge of almost every program out there in our society that would benefit individuals such as me and my family members who are afflicted with mental disease. Since I am mentally disabled, I have my own case management services to help guide me through many tough years.
I have used the Social Services system in so many aspects that I know of more programs than my case manager does. I have seen first hand how many representatives in the Human Services field don’t have strong skills with computers. In fact, many have personality issues on top of lack of technological skills.
I love helping disadvantaged individuals who may need help and attention. Some people cannot handle this type of population, but I have been around it for so long it doesn’t bother me. In a short time that I had worked for an agency to help the disabled, I could actually see the corruption on one hand, and the concern on the other. There is a lack of patience for many who claim to love working for companies that help the disabled. However, the pay scale is not very high, which may be another factor for the quality of work that is lacking for this population. Even though I have case management help, I have taught my “case managers” that are younger than me, various programs, forms, and other options available to me that they had no clue what I was requesting and had to inquire with their supervisors. These case workers do not have much understanding of technology, besides the sincerity necessary to help their consumers. I show them the endless possibilities, websites and information available in cyber space that can help them, as well as, their consumers. I understand computers better than any case manager I have had over these past ten years.
In fact, I have had more personal knowledge of how to take an uncontrollable mentally retarded child and know when an agency should intervene to have that child go to a respite house. It benefits the child as well as the rest of the family that has been stressed with the actions of the child. I have a unique outlook of how to use my bachelor’s degree for my future in computer information systems. I feel that learning as much as I can in information systems, I may be able to focus the handicapped child or individual away from the stressors of life, and maybe lose themselves (sort of speak) in the computer technology world. I do not know at this time how to go about utilizing my skills, but that is the reason for choosing the course I have for this degree. Once I complete my studies, I would like to create some kind of system for this population to understand the computer in a level that won’t have them feel “different.”
I have helped my own case workers develop a plan of action at times of extreme loss. The grieving process is a natural reaction everyone who in one way or another have had to face. People who have bi-polar or other similar mental disorder, (especially severe depression) may need that extra help to find the right counseling, and medicine therapy that would help the individual follow through the process without “falling back.” I, myself, while facing grief and loss, know that extra counseling at times is needed in order for me not to have the mania and depression go into full swing. I have seen others, such as myself, face what I have and, in turn, advised them to seek help before it would become a problem (mentally, physically and economically)
One way of coping (in my opinion) is by losing yourself in the computer. There is another world out there, and by being able to use the technology at hand, the grieving process, or any other traumatic issue, can be less stressful by knowing where to look into the Internet for relief. I may be able to guide the way to do this if I understand it myself. From my personal knowledge, there are different procedures and possible steps to help individuals in need at a very critical point in their lives.
As a re-entry woman, my life has been both common and unique to other women. I was a victim of domestic abuse by my ex-husband. Leaving this man took strength and courage, which I am proud of myself. I had to work at whatever job I could get and raise my three children at the time on my own. Two of which have severe mental disabilities. My ex-husband has not paid child support for over 8 years. This left raising my family on my own. It was not easy, especially when my disability would get in the way of my success.
I am most proud of staying strong for my children and my husband. Being able to continue with school no matter how difficult it has been for me, and to show my children what an education can do for them personally, as well as, professionally is a great accomplishment. My family is precious for me. I had many obstacles from my health, to my family obligations, and my economic situation that hindered me to continue ahead in my education.
I married a man that has supported me mentally. He is there for me when I feel like “giving in” to my doubts at times. Even though he may not be earning an income and is severely ill, he has been strong by taking care of four children. While I would be out earning the income to keep a roof over our heads and food in our stomachs, he has been there for all the children. (Three of which are not biologically his own.) I feel that he has contributed his share to our household even though he may not be the one earning an income. It doesn’t just take one individual to take on everything to raise a family. We all support each other, and that is what a family does.
If my family was not as supportive, I may not be able to continue as far as I have accomplished today. I have been able to work and continue in school full-time for a long time with the knowledge that my family is there for me. They are there to encourage me to continue my educational goals. Not only for us to gain financial stability, but for me to succeed! Finally achieving my goals! Not falling in the depths of despair and dwelling on my illness!
However, success is a term that has many meanings. I feel that success for me is to continue each day and not giving in to the “demons” I have which hinder me with “episodes,” can overwhelm me at times. My family needs me. This is my strength.
Once I have earned that Bachelor’s degree in my hands, I can show my parents that one of their children has graduated from college. They were happy that my siblings and I had graduated high school. However, not one of us graduated from college. In fact, my parents do not know that I am in college. I want to surprise them. They both never completed high school and had high hopes for me a long time ago. Now, I will truly feel happy by showing them that I had succeeded by obtaining my degree. They were not the most supportive and felt that I would never make it. However, I want to prove anyone that they were wrong about me. At present, my “demons” are trying to win, but I am fighting! The college that I have enrolled in has been able to work with my slips and falls. They are willing to help pick me up and continue on to reach my goals.
The field I have chosen is difficult but not so hard to achieve. I know that I have the capability to learn this field. It has taken its toll on me, but I am determined not to let my illness get into my way of obtaining this degree. My illness can be very overwhelming and has set stumbling blocks in my way. However, there are many out there that have their own blocks to climb over. I just need to find that right stability, by having the confidence and respect to myself. I feel that I am on the right road to obtain that stability for myself and my family. I want to find a more stable, challenging, and fulfilling job. My last position in the workforce was a Customer Service representative. I have been thinking of even furthering my education later on to earn a Master’s Degree. However, I need to pace myself and start by actually finding employment in a better career that my bachelor’s degree can open the door for me. Even though I may not have finished what I started to earn a degree in my past, the classes I did learn helped me further my employment opportunities when I was healthy to do so. Once I have established myself in a new career, I feel that I can give back to my community by volunteering my services to the mentally challenged by being an advocate when it comes to their needs. Helping those less fortunate or struggling with an illness like mine is something very important to me. I have recently spoken with my own case manager and her agency is looking for someone like me to help advocate for others. I may be able to even earn an income rather just be a volunteer by having my degree. This degree will open more doors to me. I intend to look at every door that will open and find the one or two that I will be able to walk through and use to my own advantage. I am already feeling proud of myself by learning the application of systems that I would always ask for help from others. It’s a wonderful feeling of accomplishment. Once I finish my experience with Empire State College, I hope to find that right career that would provide satisfaction personally, as well as financially. I need to be sure that being educated will exactly mean what the word “educated” implies. Mainly, that everything I have been taught will be used in one aspect, or another, for future use.
By the end of 2010, I want to have that Bachelor’s Degree! During the same time another goal is to have obtained full-time employment in an entry level position dealing with computers. As I progress and thrive in my career I intend to be able to provide my family to live much better than our situation at present. I feel that I will obtain work in Suffolk County Civil Service and progress in such a way that my economic situation will be of an advantage. A position such as this will satisfy my wishes to make a difference for the disabled population, by inter-twining my knowledge of computers and my passion for this population. Another goal is to not live off government funding within the next five years, which will be about 2013. Instead, not just myself, but my entire family will be able to “make it” on our own.
At present, I am in need of financial help for additional expenses that I have in the course of my education. It would be of great help to have additional funding to make it a little easier to meet my educational needs. I have made a big step in my life, and I intend to make that step go even further. I am even thinking of even furthering my education to obtain a Master’s. My family relies on my strength, even when I am “sick.” I intend to make a difference. I hope you will seriously consider my request for assistance.
I hope to continue to learn, both in a critical thinking, in addition, with hands on technical skills use, to provide my future with a direction that I initially decided to go to school for; to earn a better income. My objective is to find employment in Suffolk County Civil Service in a position that I can use my computer skills and my knowledge of disability services. I feel I can succeed in achieving success. I hope that you would seriously consider my application. Even if you decide not to award me with this honor, it was nice to voice my situation in the hopes that others will see that not all individuals on assistance want to maintain living off the system. Not all disadvantaged individuals are unwilling to learn, get ahead, and take on challenges in the form of education and careers. Many want to be self-sufficient in this society, and that includes me. I want to thank you for this opportunity to request your help in funding for my pursuit of earning a degree.
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