Jessica Coleman knows what it feels like to be alone. When she was in high school, she found out she was pregnant. The Marion teen was afraid to tell anyone – not her mother and not her twin sister. She isolated herself. “I was depressed and sad,” she said. “I felt shame. I expected better of myself.”
When Jessica finally shared the news, she realized her family was happy to welcome a new addition. Her cousin encouraged her, saying, “You’re not the first person to become pregnant and you won’t be the last.” Jessica said that was the spark of connection she needed. “That made me feel like I wasn’t alone,” Coleman stated.
While Jessica had support, it was not easy to juggle work, parenthood, and classes. Jessica graduated from Harding High School and attempted a four-year college, but it was overwhelming.
Jessica didn’t give up on her goals, despite the setback. She came to Marion Technical College and found her niche in the Human and Social Services program.
Life threw more curve balls. Jessica cared for her mother during a serious illness. Before her mother passed away last June, she learned that Jessica was on track to graduate.
“She was really happy that I was graduating!” Jessica remembers. MTC gave her the encouragement she needed to keep going. The class of 2018 graduated the day before Mother’s Day this year.
“I grew up at MTC. I’ve been here for seven years. I did a lot of learning here at MTC!” Jessica shared. “Professor Sam Wolfe told us early on that you have to make college a priority you work your life around, and not fit college into your life.”
An internship though MTC gave her an opportunity to turn her an idea for a mentoring program for girls into a reality. Her Leading Ladies program at Harding High School serves 56 girls. The program includes life skills, inspiring speakers, volunteer opportunities, and planning for college or a career after graduation.
“I never want anyone to feel as lonely as I felt, in any circumstance,” Coleman said.
The group encourages the members to support each other and mentor younger students. Eventually, Jessica would like to expand it to include elementary school girls.
“We’re more receptive to listen when someone has just gone through what we are going through,” Coleman said.
The mentoring group encourages girls to find a healthy way to deal with stress.
“We had a balloon activity where we each wrote our stressors on a balloon. We saw our similarities. We learned that others may have stresses you didn’t know about,” Jessica described. “We talked about asking others for help when it feels overwhelming. You have a whole circle of support.”
Jessica also invited Shawnta Dyer, a Harding graduate playing professional basketball in Switzerland, to talk via video chat about how she’s living her dream, and how critical support was to achieving her dream. Dyer is not the only one.
“I’m already doing my dream job,” Jessica shared.