“There were times I didn’t even realize I needed help until [Family Promise] helped me. They push you sometimes.”
Semper Fortis (“Always Courageous”) is the motto of the United States Navy. For 19-year-old Navy sailor Rachel, you could also say it has been her life’s maxim.
Rachel, her sister, and their mother lived in a state of chronic poverty and homelessness for almost as long as she could remember. They moved through a series of run-down apartments and unsafe neighborhoods. As Rachel grew older, school was an escape from the stresses of life. She liked her classes and was an excellent student.
She was nine when her family came to Family Promise of Cape May County, NJ, and from the time she arrived, Rachel knew she wanted more out of life. Family Promise told her about the Milton Hershey School in Hershey, PA. It was a boarding school for children living under the poverty level who excelled academically—children just like her. Students who are accepted to the school attend tuition-free and receive free room, board, and even clothing. They earn money every year of enrollment so that they can afford college by the time they graduate.
Rachel began to have dreams of her future.
With the support and encouragement of Family Promise, she applied and was accepted to Milton Hershey, and she hit the ground running. Her first year there, she became a student ambassador. Another year, she was selected to attend a student leadership summit in Iceland. She remained in touch with Family Promise the whole time, knowing they were still there supporting her.
Rachel went on to college but had a change of heart after her first semester.
“I like school, but it’s not what I really wanted,” she admits. “I wanted to be out helping people.”
Last spring, she entered the U.S. Navy. Now she’s receiving an education while doing something she values.
“I’m going to school, and I’m helping people and protecting our country,” she says.
Rachel views Family Promise as a critical turning point in her life.
“Family Promise was always there for us,” she recalls. “Sometimes, when people know you’re homeless, they treat you differently, but Family Promise didn’t.”
Rachel acknowledges it wasn’t an easy time, but even as a child, she understood that Family Promise was steering her in the right direction.
She says, “There were times I didn’t even realize I needed help until [Family Promise] helped me. They push you sometimes. You’re there because your situation isn’t ideal, but Family Promise makes sure it will be better in the end.”
Rachel may not consider herself courageous, but she acknowledges it took strength to get where she is today.
“I remember thinking back then, ‘I don’t want to repeat this cycle.’ I didn’t want to be in that situation ever again,” she says. “Family Promise was great for us.”