At a young age my parents tried to instill in us how important an education was. Neither of my parents graduated high school and they wanted better for their children. Around the age of fourteen, my father told me there was no money to send us to college. He said, “You need to find a husband who will take care of you and have a family.” I took that advice to heart and at sixteen I was married with my first child. A dream of college was not obtainable.
Fast forward thirty years. After three failed marriages and tons of dead-end jobs in construction, waitressing and bartending, I knew there had to be a better way of life. It had long been a dream of mine to have a career helping people who had similar situations as mine. I wanted to become a counselor. Chattanooga State is where I landed, starting my major in social work.
There were many obstacles I faced. I was forty-seven years old; my husband was disabled, I had both my children, two grandchildren and a stepson with behavioral problems all living in the same house. I had no idea where the money would come from, but I decided to give it my all.
The first year of college my family was surviving on my part-time job, my husband’s disability, and the Pell grant. In a twenty-year-old car I drove forty-five miles each way to school.
The First in the Family Scholarship enabled me to quit my part-time job and devote more time to my studies, taking care of my family, and retaining a future for us. When I was invited to be a guest at Chattanooga State’s Dinner of Firsts, I felt I had never been to anything so important in my life. This created a belief in me that I was really going to go somewhere in life.
Where Are They Now Wednesday
I graduated from Chattanooga State in 2016, Cum Laude with a 3.78 GPA, with my Associate of Science degree. My honors were Phi Theta Kappa for academic achievement in September 2014, the Spire Honor Society for academic achievement as a non-traditional student in spring 2015, and the Presidential Excellence Award in spring 2016.
Following the Tennessee Pathways to social work, I attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, graduating Cum Laude in 2018 with a bachelor’s in integrated studies, concentrating in Social Work and Criminal Justice. Before graduating, I worked part-time at Chattanooga State in the Honors Department under the supervision of Amanda Bennett who taught to me to believe in myself. I worked full time for two and a half more years at ChattState in the TCAT Medical Programs. With the encouragement of my supervisor, Jimmy Jones, it was time to move on to the career of my dreams. It was an honor to work for and engage with all the faculty and staff at Chattanooga State who gave me the wonderful opportunity to be everything that I could be.
Today, I work for Bridge Health as a case worker on the Community Support Team in Georgia, educating and supporting individuals in utilizing community-based resources. I am sensitive to the issues that individuals face, and seek to help individuals who experience social, economic, and political disparities by empowering them with the tools to maximize their strengths. I am absolutely living the dream. I get to come home every afternoon to my husband who asks me, “how was your day, and what did you do?” I get to say to him, “I have been saving the world, one person at a time.”
Desiree Decker graduated from Chattanooga State in 2016.