Turning her life around
Posted on May 9, 2013
BY MIKAYLA KREUZBERGER
PENDLETON — Not many people receive a standing ovation from a crowd of more than 600 people, but Val McDowell has.
Guests at a recent U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development state convention in South Carolina not only gave McDowell, 30, of Pendleton, a standing ovation – the state department created the Self-Sufficiency Award in her honor.
“I was shocked,” she said of the standing ovation. “I knew I was getting the award, but I had no idea how many people would be there.”
McDowell credits her success story to several employees at her Pendleton apartment complex and to the volunteers with Ripple of One, a non-profit organization in Oconee and Pickens counties that focuses on getting its clients off government assistance.
“I started volunteering for my apartment complex, especially with the children. I would host parties for the kids,” she said.
McDowell had worked as a traveling restaurant manager until a hereditary illness forced her to quit her job. Her medication for her condition caused her teeth to deteriorate, which contributed to her shy demeanor and low self-esteem.
“I had to get on government assistance. I didn’t have my GED, and it’s hard to get involved in any other line of work without one,” she said. “But at that time, I just thought, ‘Why should I get my GED?’”
McDowell was referred to Ripple of One by her apartment complex’s resident service coordinator, Pam Broome. Broome noticed McDowell’s potential and desire to do more, and sent her to Ripple Director Stephanie Enders.
“The challenge we see with all of our clients is that they do not have a plan to get off government assistance,” Enders said. “If you obtain even a job at $11.00/hr - your assistance goes away. If you’re in school, sometimes the assistance is cut in half. It’s very scary to jump into something new and not have any type of savings account.”
McDowell said Ripple of One helped her take the plunge toward receiving an education and working to get off assistance, despite the “what ifs?” She knew it wouldn’t be easy while raising her 15-year-old son.
“My Ripple mentor pushed me every day. I took classes to get my GED, and I passed,” she said.
Enders bragged that McDowell not only passed her GED, but had the highest score among those who took their tests at a Greenville test center that day. McDowell’s reward? Ripple of One provided the needed dental work to get her to start smiling again.
Val McDowell studies for final exams in the library at Tri-County Technical College. She recently won the Self-Sufficiency Award from the state's Department of Housing and Urban Development for her effort to get off government assistance. She has received her GED and is close to receiving her associate's degree. She also has a paid internship through Ripple of One.
McDowell’s mentor, who wished to remain anonymous, had already encouraged McDowell to sign up for classes at Tri-County Technical College, where she recently completed her first year – the goal is to graduate with her associate’s degree in administrative office technology in December.
“As human beings, we need someone there to push us when we don’t want to be pushed. Val is exceptionally gifted at being organized and working with children. She’s hoping one day to work at an organization that fosters to needy children,” Enders said.
McDowell said besides working to receive her college degree, Ripple of One has also helped her get her new drivers license.
“I hadn’t driven in four years. I had fines I had to pay in order to have my car back on the road, and I could never afford it,” she said.
Most days she took the Clemson Area Transit bus system to her classes, which was an hour-and-15-minute bus ride one way, to and from school.
Enders said Ripple of One created a paid internship for McDowell so that she could pay her car’s fees and renew her license.
“She volunteers for Pam at the apartment complex and works at Helping Hands Thrift Shop, and she’s been saving her money. Ripple matches what she can save from her internship,” she said.
McDowell said she drove to her classes at Tri-County for the first time only three weeks ago. And, although she’s fully capable of driving, she still uses public transportation as a way to save money for a down payment on a new home.
“We’re hoping that by the time she graduates from Tech, she’ll have a nest egg ready,” Enders said.
“I’m hoping that in the next 14 months, I’ll have a job and I will have moved out of government housing,” McDowell said. “It’s a lot, juggling school, work and keeping up with my son, as well as saving money for future power bills, moving expenses … but it’s worth it.
“I’ve lost several important people in my life, I am dealing with an illness, but I have gone to school, worked with Ripple and am working toward a better life – if I have anything to say to others who are struggling, it’s ‘If I can do it, you can do it. If you don’t like your life, do something about it.’”
She hasn’t stopped smiling.
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Reprinted with consent from Seneca Journal