NEW Alum Finally Graduates, Inspires Own Kids To Continue Education

Belinda Whitfield holds up her diploma on graduation day - at long last!
                          Belinda on Graduation Day!

Here’s what the staff at NEW will tell you: Some homeless people may be a bit too broken to put back together. But a large number are no any different than you and me. The difference is they didn’t have someone to help them back up in time after the last hurdle. They’re fully aware of what needs to be done to resolve their situation. They just haven’t had a chance to catch their breath yet because they’re too busy surviving. And through it all, they remain determined and hard working, and value an education if they don’t have one.

In other words, they’re like Belinda Whitfield.

Belinda was at New Transitions for about 16 months before successfully moving on to permanent housing at Rachael’s House. Last summer, she finally got her high school diploma. Because she is one of the most focused people you’ve ever met. “You have to make a plan, stay focused on the plan, and execute it. If you follow through, it will come true,” she says.

So what happened? How did she become homeless? The same thing that took so long with finally getting the diploma – time, and life.

A DC native, Belinda moved south in the 90s because she felt it a safer place at the time to raise her family. And she did. She has raised three kids – one a college graduate, the other two college students. And that took time. It also meant putting her own education on hold. “When you’re a parent, you make sacrifices. They came first.”

Starting in 2011, a string of job losses and financial hardship resulted in returning to the DC area to try her luck. But an unexpected and long stretch of unemployment resulted in homelessness. She was at a family shelter for a short while, but once her child left for a more stable situation, she had to leave too. In 2014, Belinda came to NEW.

“NEW is a great community that works with people who want to help themselves,” says Belinda. And she was determined to help herself. It took one dogged year to get the diploma, which was self-paced, and accessible through computers at NEW, but still challenging for a 42-year-old who hadn’t been in a formal educational setting in decades. And it tried her patience. “I’d put down my answer and if one thing was wrong, it would erase entire sections. It was really challenging, especially the math.”

But Belinda is nothing if not determined. “I would tell myself that I hadn’t come this far to give up. So I kept going. And I got the diploma.”

So what’s next for her? She just bought a computer, and her long-term goal is to attend college and become a medical assistant. “That’s my next move.” What’s sweeter is that one of her college-going kids had dropped out, but is now enrolled again, inspired by Belinda’s example.

gala2010When you give to NEW, you make it possible to give women like Belinda – and their kids – new futures. Please join us at the 2016 Moving Out Of Homelessness gala.

Tickets and sponsorships are still available. For questions regarding sponsorships, please contact Tracy Frish at tfrish@nebw.org or 202.847.0213. 

The gala will be held 6:30 – 8:30 pm, October 25, 2016 at the Marriot Marquis in Washington, DC (901 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20001)