“Come Tuesday, [Melody] Remington expects she’ll cry. Come fall, she plans to attend Santa Ana College to earn her associate’s degree and paralegal certification. Then she hopes to head to Trinity Law School to become a criminal defense lawyer,” writes Brooke Staggs of the Orange County Register.
These are the success stories of life change that unfold at the Orange County Rescue Mission. I am thrilled to have Melody and other students’ stories featured on the front page of the Tustin News. Read more about their hard work and journeys toward new life here.
Melody Remington has a past dotted with depression, homelessness and alcoholism. But the future looks much more hopeful for the mother of four. On Tuesday, Remington will cross the stage to accept her high school diploma. The 30-year-old will also give a speech. With a GPA of 3.36, she’s at the top in her class of 60 students graduating through the Tustin Adult School. And she’s one of 15 students who make up the first graduating class of Orange County Rescue Mission’s diploma program. The nonprofit launched the program in November at its transitional housing facility, Village of Hope, through a partnership with Tustin Unified’s nearby adult school. Now, formerly homeless men and women who come to live at Village of Hope without having graduated high school get assistance earning their credits and preparing for the California High School Exit Exam. “There were some parts of us that wanted to quit, but I kept pushing,” Remington said. “There’s no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs.” Remington struggled to connect to school growing up in Tustin, trying an independent study program before dropping out with 99 credits to go. She became a stay-athome mom with her four children. Then her husband lost his job, and they lost their home. Soon, Remington was drinking to drown her depression. “I needed to come where I knew I could get help,” Remington said. She enrolled at Village of Hope in September, bringing her children ages 5 to 9 with her while her husband stayed outside to work. At the village, Remington was assigned to work as an educational director, helping high school students plan for their futures while she was busy building her own. She’d study until 1or 2 a.m., taking her homework with her everywhere she went. Then her daughter would walk with her from Village of Hope across Valencia Avenue to the Tustin Adult School to turn in her work. Remington would also make study schedules and push her peers to help keep them on track. “She has been a constant source of encouragement and support to many other adult students who are also earning their high school diploma this June,” said Dustin O’Malley, principal at Tustin Adult School. Come Tuesday, Remington expects she’ll cry. Come fall, she plans to attend Santa Ana College to earn her associate’s degree and paralegal certification. Then she hopes to head to Trinity Law School to become a criminal defense lawyer. ••• One of the students Remington pushed to succeed was 51-year-old Geoffrey Jennings, the oldest graduate from the rescue mission’s diploma program this year. When he was 18, Jennings couldn’t read. He was living with his dad at the time. When his mom wrote him a letter, he’d spend a couple of months trying to decipher what it said, ashamed to admit he needed help. He said he’d been labeled “special ed” growing up. But he was never diagnosed with any condition, insisting he simply “got lost through the cracks” of the education system. Though he left school in the 11th grade, Jennings discovered a passion for reading and managed to land good jobs. He’d worked at the same automotive company in Irvine for 22 years when, amid the recession in September 2008, Jennings was told they were laying off everyone and sending the jobs to Mexico. A few months earlier, his brother had died. Months before that, his mom had a stroke and he had to put her in a nursing home. “I just got a triple whammy within a year,” Jennings said. He become depressed and ended up living on the streets, frequenting the Tustin Library to read Westerns and keep his mind occupied. About 19 months ago, he met Officer Melissa Trahan with the Tustin Police Department. Trahan helped him get into a program at the rescue mission, where he found God, stability and a new sense of worth. But one thing was still missing: being able to check “high school diploma” on job applications. “For me, it was a shame,” Jennings said. “I thought, Why didn’t I get it?” He planned to get his GED. When he heard the rescue mission was switching to a diploma program instead, he was excited. “I think a high school diploma says more than a GED,” Jennings said. Since November, he’s been studying around the clock – often with earplugs. When it came time to do his work, he’d put them in to block out the distractions and doubt that have held him back before. Jennings was so worried he wouldn’t pass the math portion of the California High School Exit Examination that, even after he took the test, he kept going to tutoring while he waited a month and a half for his scores. When they came, he had passing marks. “It’s been a
really good journey,” Jennings said. ••• Tiffany Petkus, 47, was enrolled in high school in her Illinois hometown until her junior year. She said she hadn’t paid attention or done any real work since seventh grade, though, she said, cheating and cutting corners to get by. Then she fell in love and became a mom. She moved to California with her new husband and 1-month-old son the year she should have been graduating from high school. Petkus has tried to finish school four times since, attempting a community college and a Regional Occupational Program. She always fell back into a spiral of drug addiction, though the diploma remained at the back of her mind. “I was just starving to get my education,” she said. She came to Village of Hope in May 2014. She’s been sober since then, for the first time in 27 years. She also earned the 110 credits she needed to become a high school graduate. She, too, credited ,Remington with pushing her to succeed. Petkus used to work at a post office, and she might try to go back. But she’s also interested in working with kids, after Village of Hope assigned her to work with the toddlers there. She’s enjoyed changing diapers and wiping noses – things she missed with her children. Because of her recent studies, she feels she’ll be able to help her 9-yearold son with his homework. “I’ve never finished anything in my life until this,” Petkus said. “I’m somebody today.”
MICHAEL KITADA, CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHER Melody Remington, 30, will receive her high school diploma Tuesday thanks to help from Orange County Rescue Mission’s transitional housing program, Village of Hope.
MICHAEL KITADA, CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHER Tiffany Petkus, 47, left, Geoffrey Jennings, 51, and Melody Remington, 30, are members of the first graduating class from the Orange County Rescue Mission’s high school diploma program.