Realizing a Dream
Greensboro Dreamers Kadijah Woods (l) and Jacayla Edwards (r) are Just Months Away from Graduating
More than three years have transpired since Georgia Southern magazine first wrote about Greensboro Dreamers Jacayla Edwards and Kadijah Woods. If they continue to stay on their current paths, the two seniors will this year attain their college degrees — it’s a goal they have been pursuing since they were in elementary school in Greensboro, Georgia.
“I am just so happy to finally be this close to reaching the goal that I planned years ago,” said Edwards, a biology major. “I am so proud that I didn’t give up on myself.”
“I always knew it would be tough, but for me nothing is ever impossible,” added Woods, who also has maintained a 3.3 GPA at Georgia Southern. “I wish more people would believe in themselves before giving up just because it’s the social thing to do.”
Fifteen years ago, both were students at Greensboro Elementary School when 56 first graders at the school were promised financial help for college or vocational school if they made it through high school. Their benefactors were Tom and Kathy Kelly, a retired couple living at Lake Oconee in Greene County, Georgia, who wanted to give back by helping educate the rural community’s underprivileged children. They established the Greensboro Dreamers program, modeled after the “I Have a Dream” Foundation in New York City, which was launched in 1981 by philanthropist Eugene Lang.
Forty-four Greensboro Dreamers stayed in the program and graduated from high school, and Edwards and Woods chose to pursue their higher education at Georgia Southern. When Edwards, who plans to become a physician assistant, started college, she was your typical nervous freshman participating in the summer Eagle Incentive Program (EIP), which is designed for students to demonstrate their ability to succeed in college.
“I was so afraid of college because I thought it was for geniuses, and I did not participate in anything that didn’t have anything to do with homework or tests,” she recalled. “I ended EIP successfully with all A’s and by the end, I realized that I should’ve lightened up and enjoyed myself.”
For Woods, leaving home and starting college “was a huge breath of fresh air.” The psychology major said she arrived at Georgia Southern ready to take on the real world and live. “Immediately, I knew that I had made one of the best decisions of my life,” she said. “Leaving the friends I had behind was not as rough as I originally thought. I knew I would have to open up, explore and of course, spend long nights in ‘Club Hendy,’ our library,” she said, laughingly.
Both young women acknowledged that the Dreamers program boosted their drive to succeed. “I think it changed the course of my life,” said Woods. “My experiences in the program showed me how big you could really dream. Aside from the educational support, they made sure to show us adventure by exposing us to different things in the world. I am a small town country girl and they took us on field trips to Colorado, New York, Florida and so many other places. Sometimes I think out loud about how blessed I am to have the support of the Kellys and ‘Miss Beth’ (Beth Thomas is the Greensboro Dreamers project director). Now that I am an adult, I fully understand the amount of time, money and effort they put forward for us.”
The two Dreamers remain in frequent contact with the Kellys and Thomas. “I know that whenever I need them, they will be there right by my side,” Edwards said. “It feels wonderful to have cheerleaders cheering me on. They are not only ‘the Kellys’ and ‘Mrs. Thomas’ to me — they are family, just like my grandparents and parents.”
Greensboro Dreamers co-founder Tom Kelly acknowledged his pride in what Edwards and Woods have accomplished and continue to achieve.
“Beth Thomas, my wife Kathy, and I consider Jacayla and Kadijah to be part of our family…and we will always be there for them,” he said.
The two University students noted they also found a mentor in Georgia Southern Dean of Students Patrice Buckner Jackson, who has provided much-needed guidance and support. “Meeting Dean Jackson was divine,” said Edwards. “She took me under her wing my freshman year and has been here for me every step of the way from trying to branch out and getting involved my sophomore year, to the birth of my son, Gabriel, my senior year. I don’t know what my experience would have been like here if it wasn’t for God placing her in my life.”
Both Edwards and Woods are defying the odds and stereotypes of being young mothers, and are juggling school and the responsibilities that come with taking care of a child. Why are they determined to earn their college degrees? As they close in on that goal, both acknowledged that the advice of the people who told them they could accomplish anything continues to resonate with them.
“If I ever needed any motivation, my son brought all I ever needed into my life in just a short period of time,” said Edwards who explained she didn’t want to give up her dream of becoming a physician assistant. “I evolved from a young innocent naïve girl, to a young lady trying to branch out, and now to a woman working hard for the future of this family I have been blessed with.”
Woods too, doesn’t regret making the choice to be a student and a mother to daughter Autumn. “My path may not be what everyone had planned for me, but she is the best thing that could have happened to me. It is because of her that I am becoming the woman and student I always knew I could become. Failure is not an option when you have an innocent soul watching your every move.”
Woods now dreams of working with children as she moves forward to a career. She is hoping to earn a master’s degree, which will help her become a child psychologist. Both students are excited about their futures and said their experiences at Georgia Southern have opened their eyes to a world of possibilities.
“I am 10 times the woman I ever dreamed of becoming and I am only getting better,” said Edwards. “Georgia Southern was the perfect place for me. I am very proud to be an Eagle.” — Sandra Bennett
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