Not everybody can relate to our homeless clients. But Denise Ziegler has a story that serves as inspiration.
Denise, 53, is the lead case manager at New Horizons, which currently serves 17 families with single mothers. Her team provides case management services, home visits, and community meetings.
On Saturday, June 24, she got her associate’s degree in business administration from Strayer University.
Denise began working at NEW in 2008 as support staff on the weekends, while she was working on weekdays as an administrative assistant. Her other job recommended that in order to advance she go back to school, so she did.
In 2010 she lost her weekday job as an administrative assistant and started working at NEW full time as a case manager, and dropped out of school.
A year and a half ago, she decided to finish her degree.
“It was very emotional,” Denise said. “I regretted taking that long break but in the process, you know, I raised a family. I currently have my mom living with me. I had a lot of stuff happen in between.”
Denise said that she is hoping to transfer to University of District of Columbia to get her bachelor’s degree; and that her work at NEW has played a role in her wanting to switch her major to social work.
“I can relate to a lot of the women,” Denise said. “And just to be able to get them to the next level in their journey, I would love to see that. Because it’s never too late. And I’m proving this – I’ll be 54 in August.”
She encourages them to not wait as long as she did. Some of the women do not have GEDs, and so she advises them to at least get a GED or go through a high school degree program.
“I always try to lead by example,” Denise said. “I did share with them, they all knew I was in school. At some point I shared with them recently that I would be graduating. Just to show them that it’s never too late. Just to be encouraging.”
But Denise does not just talk about the positive aspects of going back to school. She also shares the hard parts, which include frustration at completing assignments and papers.
Denise hopes to encourage the women at NEW to pursue an education. She came to DC from Pennsylvania 16 years ago.
“When I came here I was not the person that I am now,” Denise said.
She was addicted to drugs, but she has been clean and sober for 14 years. She was homeless when she came to DC with a man she was dating.
“I can definitely relate with very similar issues that they have that I’ve been able to overcome,” Denise said.