Becky A., Director, Christel House Indianapolis
A few weeks ago, I attended the very first graduation for our Christel House Drop Out Recovery School (DORS) here in Indianapolis. It is a program where adults, age 18 and older, can earn their high school diplomas (not a GED) and college credit at a local community college at the same time. We launched the program in August 2012, and in our first year, have approximately 175 students ranging in age from 18 – 53.
Our first graduating class consisted of 5 students, four women and a man. They ranged in age from 19 to 34 and had 9 children between them. All of them have struggled to make ends meet on minimum wage pay and were searching for better lives for themselves and their families. Life is tough, but even more so when you don’t have a high school diploma. The average high school graduate earns $8,000 more a year than a person without a diploma. That extra $8,000 a year means the ability to put food on the table, buy diapers for babies, put gas in the car and pay the electric bill each month. It also translates into an extra $300,000 in earnings over a lifetime. It has a significant impact on a family’s quality of life and on a person’s own self-worth.
Each of our graduates had a dream to earn their high school diploma. As I watched them march in to “Pomp and Circumstance,” wearing their caps and gowns, I thought about how much courage it must take to return to school after not having a positive experience the first time. All of them juggle jobs, families and school work. It has been an uphill battle, but they didn’t give up. They were not looking for handouts. They were willing to put in the work to improve their lives. They just needed a place to do that. That place is Christel House.
As I congratulated them, each one told me how hard they worked to achieve this milestone in their lives. The young man told me there were days he just wanted to give up and would think about blowing off class, but his classmates would text him and tell him he needed to come to school. One of the young women told me that she was deeply grateful to our principal, Emily, who was both tough on her and her biggest champion. She gained the self-confidence she needed to understand that she can do anything she sets her mind to do. That young woman is going on to study at our local community college now.
The commencement speech was delivered by Christel DeHaan, the founder of Christel House and co-founder of RCI. She shared with the graduates her thoughts on how to live a successful life. Work hard. Believe in yourself. Set goals. Surround yourself with good people. Good advice coming from anyone, but most poignant because of who was speaking.
I’ve heard Christel DeHaan give that same advice many times before and I’ve seen her live it. My first job out of college was at RCI and I am fortunate to work with her at Christel House. You may not know this, but RCI was started in her living room nearly 40 years ago. She set goals, worked hard and surrounded herself with good people. What started as a home-based, fledgling business is now a leader in the vacation ownership industry and a multi-national company that sends millions of people on vacation around the world each year.
“Work hard. Believe in yourself. Set goals. Surround yourself with good people.” It works. I hope our graduates carry that advice with them throughout their lives.