“I have the power and need to change the narrative.”
The Back Story
As a child and a military “brat,” Ebony Edmondson-Stites and her four siblings moved around a great deal. This experience helped her to learn quickly to acclimate to the world around her as her surroundings were always changing. One change that rocked her world was the sudden death of her father when she was only 15 years old. As a result, her drive dissipated and she no longer put forth the level of effort needed in school.
Ebony acknowledges that she “made poor choices -- one after another.” She became a mother at the age of 17 and, in 1999, dropped out of high school to get a job to support her infant son. In 2002, she earned her GED just before the birth of her second child.
Over the subsequent nine years, she worked in a variety of jobs within the healthcare field, including employment as a pharmacy technician and as an office manager for psychiatrists. They paid the bills and offered variety since Ebony is the first to admit that she “gets bored easily.”
Birth of a Dream
In 2006, Ebony began working at the Seton Family of Hospitals and most of the people she started to admire and build relationships with were nurses, doctors, managers or directors. She realized that all of those positions required more than a GED. And she began to dream about the life she could have if she raised her aspirations and furthered her education.
She recalls, “I wanted to penetrate the upper echelon and I knew that I needed to do something drastic with my life. I was fortunate to be compensated as well as I was at Seton with only a GED.” She continued to get promoted and receive raises without changing positions but ultimately hit the ceiling and was no longer able to climb the corporate ladder without a higher education.
But as a single mom, now raising three kids and working full-time, she didn’t see a way out of her circumstances. However, nine years after starting at Seton, a coworker told her about Capital IDEA, a non-profit that would provide a full scholarship -- including tuition, books and supplies -- to a nursing program at Austin Community College.
The Community Invests in a Dreamer
In 2015, at age 32 and with great assistance from Capital IDEA, Ebony started to take her prerequisites at Austin Community College. As she started school with 0 credits, she had a lot of basic coursework to complete. She remembers that “I was always a great performer in high school. I just had to relight that fire. And with three kids depending on me, I had to do something more.”
The two-and-a-half year journey to nursing school was tough and often exhausting, entailing working full time and taking night classes three times/week when her mother could come over to watch the kids.
Before she started the nursing program, Ebony’s Capital IDEA Career Navigator realized that she would not get through the challenging nursing program working full time and suggested that she apply for a stipend from the Dream Come True Foundation (DCTF). Ebony wasn’t optimistic that she could attain the help she needed, as her income at Seton typically excluded her from financial assistance. However, much to her delight, she did receive a dreamer’s scholarship and with the help of DCTF funds was able to scale her work back to 20-24 hours/week. THE DCTF stipend paid the rent and her medical insurance which had jumped up when she went to part-time.
But even with this support, recalls Ebony, “It was exhausting. I was up at 4:30 a.m. to do clinicals, work a hard shift, perform 3-4 hours of homework, and return to my job the next day. And in the background my kids are hollering!” A weaker person would have given up, but Ebony is made of steel. “I had worked so hard, come so far - no way was I going back. There was nothing to go back to.”
DCTF Mentors: Guiding the Way for Dream Achievers
When Ebony’s Capital IDEA career navigator first suggested DCTF, she also described the mentorship program which would be as impactful as the stipend. She recognized that Ebony would need “someone to talk to, especially when she felt like giving up,” who could prevent her from getting “lost” in nursing school.
Ebony was fortunate to receive a tag-team of mentors. Jeff Heckler is a lobbyist and very resourceful and Barbara Morris-Blake, who Ebony describes as “a fixer who taught me that I have the power and need to change the narrative” is a business coach and team developer.
Ebony is quite grateful for the “gift of a life-long relationship with my DCTF mentors. The counsel that they provide me is invaluable. I am 100% confident that I would not have achieved my dream without them in my life.” Their relationships extend far beyond the bounds of a typical mentor/mentee relationship. “Very frequently,” says Ebony, “they would even pick up my daughter on weekends if I needed to study. It’s unreal. I honestly love them.”
The Dream Fulfilled
Ebony leapt over a great many obstacles throughout nursing school that would have forced other students to throw in the towel. Her employer pushed her to take on more hours. She encountered a professor who wasn’t supportive of her course progression. She had to deal with totaling her car. “It’s as if life was saying ‘these are your plans, I’m going to throw everything your way to see if you are still able to make it’” recalls Ebony. “Sometimes I’m surprised that I ever made it through the program with all these things happening at once.”
In May 2019, Ebony received her Associate of Applied Science in Nursing from Austin Community College. She recalls that, at the pinning ceremony, “I honestly felt like I was floating.”
Today, she has accepted a position at Seton Medical Center Austin in the Neurology/ICU department and will start her dream career on July 8. She worked in the same department while finishing her clinicals and loved the complexity and constant challenges of the population at Dell Seton. And it will help her get one step closer to her ultimate goal of working in an emergency room.
Ebony continues to attribute much of her success to her DCTF mentors. She recalls that “They advised and mentored me so much that I am impressed with my own personal growth. I’m happy with my reflection and that feels exhilarating.” And, she adds, “DCTF was like a relationship that you never saw coming. Something that you will remember for life and cherish.”
For anyone contemplating a similar path, she cautions that they need to stay focused. “It’s a bumpy ride, so put on your seatbelt and enjoy it. The end is only the beginning.”
Speaking of beginnings, Ebony’s dream continues as she plans to enroll in an online program at Texas Tech in September to receive her RN to BSN degree. She will complete this program in two full-time semesters. “I’m going to finish my degree while I’m still in the groove of deadlines,” she says with a smile. “I don’t want to repeat another 15 year break!”