Columbia College student goes from teen mother and dropout to helping teens in need.Jermaine Carroll-Clark was a teen statistic.
She had a son just one month after graduating from Parkway West High School.
"I worked odd jobs, went to college for a while – it was hard," Carroll-Clark, now 37, remembers. College didn’t work out but left a good impression. Four tough years later, she was hired by Chrysler in Fenton.
Working on an assembly line was no picnic, either. "It took me five years to adjust," she says. "It seemed like I was always being laid off, working different shifts in different departments … It was frustrating. But I stuck it out because of my kids." Another son, Jemaun, had been born five years after Anthony.
Eventually, she settled into installing seatbelts, making lifelong friends and marrying Richard, a fellow Chrysler employee. Chrysler even subsidized most costs of college business administration courses. Life was finally going well.
Then the bottom fell out. Chrysler announced it was closing both Fenton plants and she, Richard, and thousands of other employees were offered a choice: accept a buyout or take your chances. She and Richard took the buyouts.
Carroll-Clark had planned to return to school when her children were grown, but that timetable had to be accelerated. She returned to Columbia College-St. Louis in 2009 and Richard began pursuing an associate degree in electrical engineering.
Carroll-Clark had taken a sociology class at the St. Louis campus and "It [the class] enlightened me," she says. "Suddenly I realized that helping people is what I was made to do." She completed an associate degree in human services in May.
With no job and four teens at home, life is still precarious, so Carroll-Clark is overloading and plans to graduate with a bachelor's degree in human services in December 2011. Human services doesn't pay anywhere near what Chrysler paid, but she's not in it for the money. She says she wants to help troubled teens in detention centers or group homes get on the right track.
"I see it all around me every day," she says. "I want to intervene before they get into the juvenile detention system or in a group home," when it is often too late. "When you see and hear about kids gone wrong, it's because adults are not paying attention to them.
"Even if you work two or three jobs, you still have to make time for your kids. Sure, it's frustrating at times, but if they know someone cares, they'll come around eventually."
Story written by Neal Fandek, Columbia College, and originally published in the St. Louis American.