Women's Center Stories

Success Stories







Madison and Janine











































Teevi and Kristel

Teevie and Kristel






Isabel is a College Credit Plus (CCP) student, meaning that while she is a high school junior, she is taking classes which simultaneously meet high school and college requirements. She is enrolled in CCP because her dad has been talking about it since she was in 7th grade! Isabel is currently taking biology, humanities, government and English. She plans to get an associate degree at the same time as her high school diploma, and then head off elsewhere for a bachelor's, followed by law school. Isabel enjoys Model UN, theater and bike riding. 

Lakeland appeals to Isabel because she experiences more diversity here than at her high school. She enjoys getting to know people who come from varied backgrounds, circumstances and even other countries 

While she initially visited the Women's Center because she knows one of the staff members, Isabel keeps coming back because she really enjoys the space. "It's nice, everyone is supportive, and I really like hanging out and talking to those who come in. We can talk about random stuff, but if you have a problem, you can always get help." She goes on to say, "Everyone here is very accepting, which you would assume in a Women's Center, but it's nice to see that it's real." 


Nikkia Kostner has always been drawn to social work, ever since being a kid in the foster care system. She is really excited to have finally made her way to college; she started at Lakeland a year ago and is seeking a Human Services degree.

Working in the Women's Center is a great fit for Nikkia because she is interested in enhancing the support for student parents on campus. Last year she participated in the SMART program and she says "I recognize the need for a supportive environment where there are people who understand the struggle." She is starting her job this semester by investigating what parent support Lakeland has in place and she is also researching programs at other colleges. Nikkia's goal is to merge new ideas into an enriched experience for Lakeland's student parents, including some education on how to do things better as parents – "better than how we were taught… or not taught."

Nikkia is motivated by her four kids, and by a desire to be proud of herself. "At the end of my life, I want to look back and feel that I accomplished something, and did not just coast through life."

Her best advice to new students or those who are struggling is this. "Absolutely ask for help before you are desperate! Don't wait! Just reach out because there are a lot of resources here and if you don't know where to look, come to the Women's Center and we can guide and direct you."


At first glance, Meghan Laylin seems an unlikely candidate for welding. How does a woman who worked in the mortgage industry and has a college age daughter end up in Lakeland's welding program? For Meghan, it is a family affair. Her husband and daughter both completed the welding program prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. Meghan came along to help at one of their "qualifications" and realized welding was a very interesting activity – actually "kind of cool." She spoke to the program director, Ryan Eubanks, who enthusiastically informed her that if she took even one class she could get a well-paid job. Next, she got scholarships to attend full time and decided, "Darn it! I guess I will have to go ahead and get the degree!" Now she is ready to graduate with two associate degrees and 11 certificates, and is being pursued by the work world.

Jolie Smithingell is a 2020 high school graduate and, like Meghan, will be finishing at Lakeland this May. After high school she vacillated between several fields including filmmaking and amusement park management, but she landed in welding. Jolie comes from a hard working family and says, "I wasn't afraid of the hard work but I was surprised at the skill and the focus that's required for welding. You get lost in the projects and nothing in the world matters except this little ‘puddle' that you are working on." (Puddle = liquid welding.)

Jolie wishes more people (women and men) knew they had this opportunity. She says that employers are dying to get welders. "This is a field where the money is rewarding, but so is the self satisfaction and the support. In addition to learning welding, this program has helped me learn more about myself. It's helped me find my own confidence and just become my own person." Jolie claims she is not school smart but says, "I am smart enough to go into a field where I can graduate with no debt and make 6 figures! You can retire by the time you are 40 and be all set." Scholarships for women in welding are readily available!

Both women agree that support is available for women in this male dominated program. Meghan explains, "If they see us struggling, a lot of guys in the program will help, but we definitely carry our own weight."

As she moves into her career, Meghan is excited about opportunities for professional development and leadership. She explains, "I would like it to be known that companies everywhere are celebrating women in welding. Lincoln Electric has giveaways for International Women's Day as well as Women Welding weekends to get a quick lesson in welding. American Welding Society just held their Women in Welding conference online, where the keynote speaker was the founder of Women Who Weld, a non-profit organization that helps women get into the field of welding. It's support from these major welding companies that encourage women to take on being workers in the trades."

Meghan would like people to know that there are scholarship opportunities for welding via American Welding Society, Lincoln Electric, and Precision Manufacturing Association. Workforce Development through Ohio Means Jobs also provides funding for the unemployed and underemployment. The jobs are bountiful and diverse from working out in the field on the pipelines, to work on production lines right on Tyler Blvd in Mentor. Lakeland's welding program has a 97% employment rate, and employers come to offer student jobs directly from the classroom.

Meghan is a student and a welder but also a proud mother and she was happy to share the welding success of her daughter, Katherine Spinks (pictured above) in the Lakeland welding lab. She has just taken an apprenticeship with the Ironworkers Union Local 17 in Cleveland and will have the honor of working on buildings such as the Cleveland Clinic hospital being built at 615 and Norton Pkwy.

Madison and Janine

I've gotten to know Janine and Madison because they come to the Women's Center every week and use the microwave to heat up their lunch. They are always together and always cheerful. A couple of weeks ago we sat down together and they told me their story. As I listened, I was inspired to share their Lakeland experience and provide information about the dental hygiene program and clinic.

A geographically unlikely friendship has been forged at Lakeland. Madison Hurst, of Ashtabula met Janine Kutolowski of Medina, in the dental hygiene program and they immediately became best buds, despite living over 100 miles away from each other! Janine describes the distance like this. "I can almost drive to Columbus in the amount of time it takes for me to get to Madison's house!" This pair of 22 year old students is about to graduate in May, and they've truly appreciated taking their Lakeland journeys together.

They found their way to dental hygiene for different reasons. Janine watched her mom go through a lot of dental work and liked how the positive outcome influenced her confidence. Madison spent time during her childhood and teen years at the dentist and grew close with the staff. That influenced her as she chose a course for her education. They both agree that your smile is your signature, and they want to help people have the best smile possible!

The friends think the Dental Hygiene program is great. Madison says, "It's not for the weak! You have to be organized and stay on top of your game!" But most of the soon-to-be-grads in the program already have jobs lined up, pending passing their boards.

One beneficial aspect of the program is the mentoring program, which not all health programs have. Janine explains, "In our first year we had mentors. Now that we are in the second year, we are the mentors. It's a great aspect of the program because you can ask questions, get tips on how to work faster with patients, learn how to prepare for our boards, and a lot more." Madison elaborates, "They told us we would have to be dedicated to this program for two years and that we wouldn't have a social life. They weren't lying!" Even though they both did well in high school, they still experienced an adjustment to this challenging academic content and workload.

All of the dental hygiene clinicals are here on Lakeland's campus. They might do some shadowing in dental offices but all the hands-on work is on the ground floor of the H building. "We are responsible for getting our own clients. In the beginning, we work on each other but then we recruit our family and friends. Some patients are community members. Anyone can come!"

Madison and Janine describe it as a great deal and urge Lakeland students to take advantage of this unique benefit. Students must go through a screening, but then for only $20 they can get approximately $400 worth of services. The down side is that it takes time; students work more slowly than experienced professionals, and the faculty check each step to make sure it has been performed correctly. But for people little or no dental insurance, it's worth it. The dental hygiene students really encourage this because if they don't have enough patients, they can't get the required hours in clinicals, which keeps them from advancing to the next semester of the program.

Creating a close community among classmates was important to Janine and Madison. "We are fortunate that our class is so close," explains Janine. Madison agrees and shares that many classmates went to Cedar Point and the Outer Banks together on vacation. Covid-19 had an impact, of course, but the group still found ways to interact and support each other. "To get through Dental Hygiene, you should make friends," says Madison. "You should take advantage of chances to collaborate and work together."

What was the best thing about the program? According to Madison it was "meeting my best friend." Janine agrees saying, "Without each other, we would have dropped out. We went through hard things in life outside the program and without us pushing each other, we wouldn't have been able to do it! That is the truth! It was so nice to have my best friend to go through the entire program together. Outside of school we will be friends for life."

As we conclude our visit, Janine looks at Madison and says, "She is going to be my maid of honor!" I ask Janine, "Are you engaged?" "No!" she laughs. "But I am planning ahead!"


Amber has often stopped in the Women's Center to say hello. She seems like a typical college student: 19 years old, enthusiastic about her classes, hoping she's been studying enough, super excited about her new role as VP of Public Relations and Media in the honor society. She seems to be on the path to success. But it wasn't always that way for Amber.

Growing up, Amber never had a stable situation. Her parent's shortcomings sent her into foster care at age 13. She was never with a foster family, but spent her 5 years in and out of 11 group homes and facilities. Amber looks back on this as a very traumatic time of her life, never feeling secure or having supportive relationships. She fought with other foster kids and even ended up in the hospital, wondering if she would be dead soon.

But then she met a family. At age 15 Amber was placed on a list to be adopted. A family saw her on the list and reached out. They connected emotionally and the family applied to adopt Amber. For some reason, the county declined the adoption, but this family would not take no for an answer. They prayed for Amber and prayed for the adoption. Over the next three years, they continued to stay in touch with letters, phone calls and visits. They sent pictures. They even gave Amber a stuffed animal named Coco, and they had one named Coco #2 which they nurtured. Why? "They already loved me," Amber explains.

Her soon-to-be-adoptive mom wrote her this note. "We considered you our daughter even though it didn't seem it would ever be a reality. Every visit, letter, or phone call was bittersweet, especially after the county gave a firm no about you coming to us. But you were worth all of the sad moments. We love you! "

Finally, at 18, Amber left foster care, emancipated, and was adopted! After three years, and officially becoming an adult, she joined the warmth and love of this family who had been waiting for her. One of her happiest moments was when the folks who adopted her asked how she would like to introduce them. Her immediate response was, "Mom and Dad."

Amber says the most important thing about being a part of a family is this. "Having a stable home and people who are supportive pushes me to become a better person." She also finds joy in living with family members who share her Christian faith and provide an environment where she can develop and pursue her beliefs. With the support of this loving family, Amber can't believe how much she has accomplished in just one year. She got a GED, got a driver's license and a car, started college, studied hard and found herself a leader in the Phi Theta Kappa honor society.

Amber's advice to others is to realize that success is not based on anyone else's definition or timeline. Although she took a different route, she is happier now than ever before, all thanks to the love of a family.


Geraldine Comer has a Thanksgiving message. It is, "Never give up hope." Having gotten to this side of a journey through Covid-19, she knows what she is talking about.

Over 40 years ago, when Geraldine was a quiet and shy high school graduate, she boarded a plane from Tuskegee, Alabama to Cleveland. It was the very day after she graduated, and she couldn't wait to come north and live with her sisters. Soon, the bashful new Clevelander met James Comer, an extroverted young man at her new church. They were a perfect example of how opposites attract. Geraldine described it like this. "I was timid, but he could talk! I didn't have a voice back then, but he could always say what I wanted through the years. No matter what the topic, he had it! I could sit quietly, but I would watch him and be amazed!"

Geraldine and James married on June 10, 1978, and spent their lives "happily attached at the hip – two peas in a pod!" They went on to have a large, happy family: three daughters and 10 grandchildren. In later years, James started a photography business as a second career. In 2015, James decided he wanted to study business and headed for Lakeland Community College. He hoped to gain some academic knowledge to back up his extensive practical experience.

At Lakeland, James became an involved student. His charismatic personality drew people to him. He became well known in many areas of the college, but he found a unique way to contribute at the Men's Resource Center in the Pathfinders program. As networking opportunities for young African American men, Pathfinders meetings were times when James could share some of his life experiences with younger students. He attended almost every meeting over five years, and if he couldn't, he always called ahead. He became the program's Elder Statesman, and was much revered by the younger men for his wisdom, and for his genuine concern for them.

Geraldine says that James loved Lakeland. "He LOVED the school, loved going to class, loved his professors, loved everything about it!" He was an outstanding student and his name was a constant on the dean's list. He encouraged his daughters and granddaughters to attend Lakeland. He told them, "If I can start college in my 50s after being out so long, you can do it too!" His words were convincing and they enrolled. Finally, when Geraldine joined the Lakeland student body, it became a Comer family affair. They would see each other in the halls and sometimes meet for lunch in the Breakers cafeteria, an experience that was always fun. In 2018, Geraldine completed Lakeland's state tested nursing assistant (STNA) certificate program to fulfill her desire to help people.

But in March of 2020, their lives took a turn for the worse. It was the very beginning of the pandemic and suddenly, both Geraldine and James contracted Covid-19. Geraldine describes it as the worst thing she has ever experienced in her life. "At first, it robbed me of all my strength. I would just lay and sleep. I lost my sense of taste and smell. I had no desire to eat."

But then it got worse and on March 23, Geraldine was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. Soon she was on a ventilator. Her daughter Kristy described the terrible state her mom was in. "They put mom on a ventilator right away, even before the Covid test came back positive. She had a few blood transfusions, she was unresponsive. She was on the ventilator for around 18 days, so long that if she stayed on any longer she would have needed a tracheotomy. We didn't know if that would be temporary or permanent. We were told that if she survived she might be a vegetable."

Even the retelling of this experience brought Kristy to tears. "This was an awful time. It felt like a horrible nightmare. It was so extreme and so out-of-nowhere that it didn't seem real. I knew she couldn't have any visitors, but I went to the hospital anyway, hoping that if they could just see me there they would let me go in and visit, but they didn't."

Geraldine was in an induced coma and as she was brought out of it, she didn't respond to requests to squeeze the hands of her doctors. They had diagnosed at least one stroke and were afraid she might be brain dead. Thankfully, it turned out that her lack of responsiveness was not paralysis, but rather a case of severe neuropathy. Finally, there was a glimmer of hope, and slowly, bit by bit, Geraldine began a path to recovery.

From the hospital, Geraldine went to rehab and it took until July for her to be well enough to go home. This milestone was marred by the fact that her husband would not be there waiting for her. James had also been hospitalized with Covid and tragically lost his battle when he passed away on March 31st . Additionally, Geraldine's sister and brother in law died of Covid-19 in the spring, and all three of her daughters had bouts as well; two spent time in the ICU. Her daughters have recovered and Geraldine is still continuing her rehabilitation, with the help and support of her extended family.

How has Geraldine survived this ordeal? "Only God could have brought me through all of that. I am truly a walking and talking miracle!"

Losing James was devastating, a loss she will grieve for the rest of her life. "When I was in the hospital and rehab, I couldn't really grieve. Had I begun the grief process then, I never would have gotten through rehab! When I got home, I was able to grieve alone, with my girls and with my grandkids. It's an ongoing process. But I know that James would not have wanted me to stop living. He would want me to go on and finish the course that the Lord has laid out before me. God has left me here to tell my story."

Her story is one of reliance on God, and always having hope, especially since she was alone for so long, without the physical presence of her family. "There were times that coping was beyond me. I couldn't do it. I had to rely on the strength of the Lord. But, despite all I have been through, I know that a spirit of gratitude is what it takes. I can't be bitter, or resentful or be mad at the world. I can't be mad at my husband because he left me. I have my daughters, and grandchildren and so many blessings!" Since she has been home, Geraldine's family has grown to include two more blessings, a new granddaughter who honors her "Gigi" with the middle name of Hope, and the first great grandchild, a boy whose middle name, James, honors his beloved great grandfather.

Another honor for James came this summer when an envelope arrived in the mail from Lakeland Community College. Inside was James' diploma. At the time of his death, James had just one more class to complete in order to receive his degree. Despite the fact that he had only been able to complete the first 8 or 9 weeks of that class, his grades to that point were so high that he actually achieved the minimal points to pass and get credit for that class, thereby securing his degree. He might not have known it, but he had achieved his dream. According to Geraldine, the entire family rejoiced over that piece of paper! "We were overjoyed to get that degree and there were a lot of tears that day! James worked so hard, it was wonderful to have his degree in hand."

As Geraldine continues on her road to recovery which includes physical therapy and other interventions, she doesn't worry too much about what is coming next. "What do I want to do in the future? Whatever the Lord puts on my heart. I want to speak up about it, and then I will do it! I know that it's my job to share the love of God. And to let other people know that there is hope. Never give up because there is always, always hope."

Kara Byler

Kara Byler is a first-generation college student with big dreams. Growing up, she was a gifted student and kept a 4.0 average through middle school. But her family's Amish religion did not allow children to attend high school, so a broken-hearted Kara was forced to give up her dream. However, she could not live with that broken heart. Ultimately, Kara left her religion and found a job in a business where her employers recognized her potential; they encouraged her to get back on track with pursuing her dreams, which sent her in the direction of Lakeland Community College.

Despite the pandemic raging throughout the summer of 2020, Kara started Quick Start to College, a program presented jointly by the Lakeland Women's Center and Men's Resource Center. She excelled in Quick Start, gaining lots of information and skills that would help her once she started college classes. By August, she was ready. As she prepared her documents for registration, Kara came across information on Lakeland scholarships and decided to apply, since she did not qualify for federal aid. She was hesitant at first, but went ahead with her application, "just in case." She was absolutely thrilled when she received the Lakeland Alumni Hall of Fame Scholarship! This scholarship is supported through annual donations by Lakeland Hall of Famers who review applications and recommend worthy students. Kara was happy to learn that this scholarship would cover most of her first semester expenses.

Kara is a busy woman, working full time doing bookkeeping/accounting, helping care for many family members (who mean more to her than anything), participating in Al-Anon meetings and supporting others who are building their lives after being affected by someone else's alcoholism. In addition to all this, she is successfully handling her first two college courses, both online because of the pandemic.

Kara says, "I have big dreams and I am very independent, so I need to be able to support those dreams financially, and a degree in accounting is exactly what I need to make them come true. I am my own worst critic, so proving to myself that I can do this is what keeps me going. I still have a long road ahead of me in earning a degree, but I am so excited for what the future holds for me!"

Kristina Shapiro

"I did nursing school while a lot was going on in my life, having three little children, moving to a new house, working and more. A busy life plus nursing school is a lot." Kristina Shapiro acknowledges that one needs support to finish college. "I am thankful for my family who helped me go through this, my husband and my mom. It was hard, but I did it!"

Nearly all of Kristina's nursing program was during the pandemic. She says this was very frustrating and she wondered, "Am I going to be an online nurse?" But in March 2020, she applied and was hired in the Euclid hospital ICU. "This is a great place to learn about nursing and I gained really good experience. If it were not a pandemic, I would not have applied for this position and I would have lost this opportunity. So, the pandemic provided me with a year of ICU experience."

How did Kristina get through it all? She relied, at least in part, on the Lakeland Women's Center. "On my first day of nursing, I was overwhelmed with all the requirements, and I came to the Women's Center. Gloria handed me tissues and listened to me while I cried! Crying for that one day was enough for me, and it was all I needed. It took the fear out of me throughout the rest of my nursing school."

She also offers this additional advice about going through college and/or nursing school, "Be nice to people, be friendly with your peers because they are your significant support. My peers helped me so much in nursing school. Don't hesitate to ask questions. When you are studying, don't just memorize things. Try to learn things consciously, try to understand how you can use this knowledge in your life, in your practice, connect it with something you already know."

What's next for Kristina? She will take the NCLEX and then begin working after accepting one of the job offers she has received. "And of course, my main goal is to learn and grow every day, and nursing is a profession where you need to know a lot. That's my plan; learn every day!"

Amy Guerinot

After a very focused five semesters, Amy Guerinot is the first in her family to be graduating from college! She has earned an Associate in Applied Science in Biotechnology. Better yet, she has accepted a research technician position at the Cleveland Clinic and will soon be working at the Lerner Research Institute. She is accomplished and confident! But just a few years ago she didn't feel the same. "As a woman in my 50s, I questioned if I would be able to keep up. It was very frightening to go back to school. I learned that I was a lot more capable and much stronger than I thought."

Amy truly enjoyed and appreciated the biotechnology program and gives it high praise. "All of my biotech professors were so patient. They cared and they wanted us to succeed. They worked very hard to make sure we did so. Dr. Deak has put together an amazing program to ensure that success!"

Amy mentioned that she was encouraged by other stories where women returned to school after a long time. She says, "It takes bravery for women to return to school and then do all we need to do to take care of ourselves and our families." Her encouragement to those women who are still in school is this, "I would tell them don't give up, graduation is something you can achieve. Just believe that you will end up in the right place at the right time!"

Remi Resnick

In fall of 2018, Remi Resnick (pronouns they/them) participated in the Silent Witness Project. It was a Women's Center program which recognized women who had been killed by their intimate partners – the ultimate form of domestic violence. Remi was a reader and shared the story of one of the women who had died. They say that this is the most profound experience they had at Lakeland and it led them to work directly in the field of human services/domestic violence.

Remi worked hard on their degree and graduated in 2021. "It's a beautiful thing," they said. "I had a gratitude cry. It's a pretty overwhelmingly great experience. I am really grateful!" Remi celebrated six years of recovery on April 5 and never thought they would make it! The college friends and the great conversations they had with so many people in the Lakeland Women's Center and elsewhere really helped. The pandemic made it harder, eliminating face-to-face connection, but it has been a learning experience. "I learned that I have resilience! I went to treatment for eating disorders, overcame so many health issues in my lifetime, but despite all the trials and tribulations, I learned that I could get through anything if I have faith in the process." Remi has some great advice for others, too. "Your success is designed by you and not what others have planned for you. Your life is yours to decide and is not to be decided by the perimeters of others."

Janice Robinson

Janice was born in Jamaica and lived with her large, vibrant family including many brothers and sisters. Her life changed seven years ago when her mom passed away from cancer, and at age 20, Janice was left to care for her younger siblings. It was a terribly painful time of missing her mom and also trying to work to keep her family fed. Money was scarce, and just when she thought things couldn't get worse, her aunt, who had been her only source of support, was also taken by cancer. Janice was bereft. She recalls it as an awful time of her life. Although Janice had been working at Margaritaville, the popular restaurant owned by Jimmy Buffet, she had trouble making ends meet, which included covering the school fees for her brothers and sisters.

One day while at work, Janice met an American family and she shared her story with them. As she spoke, the family saw a young woman in need of support. They saw a woman with tremendous potential who wanted to grow and help others along the way. The family was from Painesville, Ohio and they decided to sponsor her and bring her to the US. They said, "We know a college that will be perfect for you." And they were right. Janice came north to live with the American family, enrolled at Lakeland in January 2019, and everything changed.

At Lakeland, Janice decided upon a business degree. Having worked at Margaritaville, she knew how Jimmy Buffett used his vast wealth to help others (see www.singingforchange.org). Janice decided that if she went into business, she would be best positioned to help others as well, including her siblings in Jamaica who still rely on her. The business classes she took at Lakeland were above and beyond her expectations. "The way things were taught enabled me to build a business plan and a marketing strategy." One of Janice's goals is to start a funeral band, which is a tradition in her Jamaican culture. Two of her brothers are musicians and with their drum, bass and keyboard skills, a funeral band could offer them consistent employment.

In addition to appreciating the skills she learned, Janice raves about the Lakeland teachers she had. "I love my teachers here. They always listened to me and I could always go to any one of them. They showed support no matter how hard the class was, and they could always see how hard I was trying."

Janice's academic efforts paid off; she was admitted to the Honors program and inducted into Phi Theta Kappa, the college honor society. She loves helping other students in these groups and has risen to leadership in both. Over time, Janice became a part of the English and psychology honor societies as well.

Though shy at the beginning, Janice found her way to the Lakeland Women's Center. Janice explained, "I came to the female empowerment program and listened to you and listened to the other students speak. I realized I had things in common with the other students and that I should get involved."

After the first semester, Janice got a job as a campus tour guide. At the training meeting, all of the new tour guides played a game. They wrote something anonymously on a piece of paper and put it down for another student to pick up, read and share with the group. Still feeling a little timid and lonely on campus, Janice had written, "I have been at Lakeland for one semester and I haven't made any friends." The student who read it immediately responded by saying, "Whoever you are, I will be your friend." This was a major turning point for Janice. Her new friend introduced her to student government and she got involved right away.

Janice has become a star on campus and is involved in nearly everything possible. No matter where you go or what activity you attend, Janice is there. She plays volleyball and has held multiple jobs on campus. Janice says, "I have had the best jobs! I get to help students in whatever I do. Knowing I can help others is what makes my college experience so great!"

Is Janice surprised by the direction of her life? "Of course! Since I was young I have asked myself what my purpose is. I realized it was to help others and I started doing that at home by helping my siblings and my elders. I brought that value here with me. I knew I could help and I knew I could be a leader." Janice's involvement in every aspect of life at Lakeland proves that statement to be true.

Janice has overcome multiple obstacles to succeed at Lakeland – the deep grief over her mom's death, departure from her home country, leaving family and friends behind, learning American culture and college culture, and living through COVID-19 while far from home to name just a few. What would Janice suggest to other students that are facing obstacles to their education? "I use my weakness as my strength. I lost my mom and I was faced with the pain of that and all the other things that I went through. I use that pain to motivate me to do better and to help others. I use her memory to build me and grow me. I remember the pain and push through so that something good will come of it. Whenever I think of how hard things were I realize that this is now my moment to bring something to the table."

Now that Janice has finished her Associate of Applied Business degree, what's next? She can take a few more transferable classes at Lakeland in the spring, and by fall she will transfer to either Cleveland State University or Lake Erie College. But first, she is taking a trip home to her beloved Jamaica. As soon as she has hugged her siblings, she plans to go immediately to her favorite river and take a swim!

In closing, Janice says, "The Lakeland Foundation has helped me financially so much! But, I would like to thank the whole college – if I started naming names I would never stop! I have so many faculty, staff and students that befriended me and I am so grateful."

Ashley Davis

Ashley Davis' parents were primarily absent from her life; she was raised by extended family members and was often on her own for survival. She was smart and even on the honor roll at school. She knew education was important but she had no guidance; no one could tell her how to prepare to go to college and there was no money for it anyway. As a teenager, Ashley got pregnant and had a son. Even so, she remained determined. She decided to move to Lake County for a new beginning, where she got her GED. After a few false starts at other colleges she landed at Lakeland.

At the very beginning, Ashley was part of the SMART program (Student Mothers Achieving Real Triumph) which was a cohort of women taking classes and attending workshops together. This put Ashley in touch with the Lakeland Women's Center where she met staff members, Gloria Lane and Mary Goss-Hill. Ashley says these two women have become like the mother she never had! "They have guided me and helped me understand how to attend and do well in college. I first thought I wanted to be a nurse, but that didn't work out and they helped me figure out where to go next."

Ashley is so excited about her education now. She is a proud and protective mom of three and works hard to successfully balance college with the rest of her responsibilities. She explains that throughout her entire life there were obstacles and no guidance or help to overcome them. The fact that she is making it, proves that it's doable and that others can succeed as well. "I hope my story can help someone because if this can happen for me, it can happen for you."

Carolina DeJesus

Carolina DeJesus, pictured on left in the photo above with her family, is completing her first year of college at Lakeland. How does a woman start college in the middle of a pandemic, take care of her family, handle a myriad of other responsibilities and do it successfully? They follow in Carolina's footsteps!

Carolina DeJesus was inspired to return to college and hopes to start the nursing program as soon as possible! She started Lakeland in the fall of 2020 and has had an admirable attitude from day one. She is a mother and caregiver, but also a dedicated student, staying focused and at the ready to participate in activities that connect her to school and women. Her thirst for knowledge is very evident; she became a medical assistant and decided right then that she would one day pursue nursing.

As a mother of two, she found life and school balance was a huge factor in deciding the right time to return to school. She says that it kept her going to know she would get to school when the time was right "for me and my family," not when it was expected of her by society. She once had a friend tell her, "Just because the train has left the station, it does not mean that you can't still get on when it is right for you!" Carolina holds on to this when she feels like she is behind in her education and reminds herself that she made the best choices she could. She says, "It is never too late!" to get back on the train of college.

She credits many things with her success so far. Important to her is the mindfulness that allows her to strategize, process and prioritize when things get stressful or tough. She defines herself as a spiritual person who leans on prayer when the stress levels mount. She also swears by taking a little time for yourself: a walk, a good read or a bit of fresh air to quiet her stressful mind and find a peace that allows her to focus and commit.

Carolina routinely writes herself messages of encouragement on her dressing mirror. One such quote that resonates with her as she traverses her life-school balance is, "Take every opportunity to become a better version of yourself." Carolina does this for her and her family every day. She has already encouraged two additional family members to return to school, insisting that they explore the resources at Lakeland and the Women's Center to help them on their way!

Carolina is a great advocate for the Women's Center! She "cannot say enough great things about the Women's Center" and credits us with offering her non-judgmental support and guidance at every turn, "even when lost and weary." She still remembers the first call of support from Diane (at the Women's Center), as she stood in a Target line, and recalls fondly that she felt "surprised and cared for." She is very pleased with the availability of the Women's Center and our assistance connecting her with the right person or resource, when needed.

Rebecca Leslein

Lakeland has kept Rebecca Leslein very busy since 2018. She arrived in January and dove right in, achieving good grades and making the dean's list nearly every semester since! But it took some time for her to decide to go to college. "I was off for eight years after high school and I worked multiple jobs in food service, as a waitress, etc." What changed? "I finally realized that I have what it takes to do something purposeful with my life!" Making that decision and following through was a big step, as she is the first in her family to get a degree.

Rebecca has always had a passion for the environment and protecting the planet. After she earns her associate degrees in both arts and science this May, she will take that passion to Kent State University to work on a degree in environmental geology. In the meantime, she supplements her education with an Americorp position with Northern Ohio Watershed, or NOW Corp. She is working on a green infrastructure for storm water drainage and water treatment systems.

During her 3+ years at Lakeland, Rebecca has been incredibly busy and involved. She has held multiple student jobs in the recruitment center, HIVE, and as an orientation leader. Soon she will begin working as an assistant in the chemistry lab. "Lakeland has been amazing," she says. "I have been blessed! I have done a lot. I have networked with my professors and met so many people. Those connections have blossomed into opportunity!"

Rebecca's path crossed with the Women's Center on the matter of voting and civic engagement, since she is the representative for the Campus Election Engagement Project. In that role, she keeps the issue of voting in the forefront, promoting voter registration and "Get Out the Vote" campaigns. The Women's Center always participates in these programs because we know that women make a difference when we vote!

To offer advice on a successful college career, Rebecca had to think for a minute, going through 50 ideas that just popped into her head. Her top three ideas are: 1) go to class; 2) don't be afraid to ask for help and utilize the resources that are available; 3) build strong relationships - this will help you the most!

Kristel Champa

Kristel is an amazing young woman. She has attended Lakeland as a College Credit Plus (CCP) student, getting all her associate level college credits while in high school. Now that she is finishing Lakeland, she is heading off to the Ohio State University in Columbus this fall. Her ultimate goal is to become a pediatric neurosurgeon, and those of us who know Kristel have no doubt that is where she will end up!

Kristel has loved her experience at Lakeland. Her best times involved being a member of Phi Theta Kappa (PTK), where she was awarded the #1 Honors-in-Action project award. During the pandemic, she says she became even more disciplined than she already was and she appreciated the wrap around support she got from the Lakeland Women's Center, PTK and her professors. Kristel is excited over her future, and we are excited for it too - we know it will be bright!

Deanna Lowe

Deanna is a caring woman who puts love of family before all else. She was adopted at a young age and says she always feels blessed to be part of a family of 11! Deanna has been at Lakeland for four years; for her it has seemed like a long journey and she claims graduating as a true blessing. After receiving an Associate of Arts degree, she will transfer to Kent State University. She is still figuring out her exact path, but she will most certainly end up somewhere in the field of social work, helping people. "There are so many things you can do in the field but I want to be in advocacy for children," she says, "as a voice for the voiceless."

She urges students to get involved in college and use all of the resources that are available. Her favorite Lakeland experience was being a part of the alternative spring break which involved three days of volunteering. She says, "It has been wonderful to be a part of a college that loves community!"

Julie Brown

Julie Brown, a long-time member of the Lakeland Women's Center, was selected as the Medical Assisting Student of the Year! She was nominated by her peers because of the leadership which she always exhibits in the classroom.

As a medical assisting student, Julie was also instrumental in starting a new campus club, the Allied Health Student Organization, of which she became president. This club's very first event, a collaboration with the Lakeland Hispanic Club, was called "Addiction Awareness Days." It brought attention to all addictions such as food, alcohol, prescription medications and illegal drugs. The program also included a vigil remembering those who were lost, showing the personal impact on the Lakeland community. This event was selected as the Program of the Year by Lakeland's Student Engagement and Leadership program. Julie and her team will be going to a national conference in Virginia to present their work.

Josie Dean

Josie Dean, Lakeland Women's Center student employee and a summer 2020 graduate, was selected as the Sociology Student of the Year! In her two years at Lakeland, Josie has taken four sociology classes: Introduction to Sociology, Urban Studies, Chemical Dependency and Deviance in American Society. Josie was admired by the teachers she had for all these classes. In the award presentation, they commented on her broad understanding of sociological concepts, writing effort, ability to create class discussion and confidence!

Faculty member Michelle Smith stated, "Josie Dean is one of the best students I have had: her critical thinking skills, ability to see the 'big picture,' advocacy for oppressed groups and boundless energy is amazing. It is rare that I have come across a student who is so well-rounded and grounded. I think she will use her talents to make the world a better place. My life is better for having met her."

Linda Dearborn

It was just about 10 years ago that Linda's life fell apart. Up until then she had spent 25 seemingly happy years as a pastor's wife, volunteering at the church and home schooling her four children. Then, quite unexpectedly her husband left the marriage, and suddenly she was on her own, facing a devastating personal crisis with no marketable skills. "I knew I would have to go back to school so that I could develop skills in something and support my family, but I was in a panic."

Throughout her entire life, Linda had been intrigued by medical information. She'd been exposed to the hospital while her son had a childhood illness and she was fascinated. She always thought that if the day came she had to support herself, she would do it via nursing, so she came to Lakeland. "Lucky for me, a staff member at the Women's Center nabbed me while I was wandering in the hallway and that is what made all the difference."

Linda started with just a few classes, and participated in the Student Mother's Achieving Real Triumph (SMART) program, a supportive network for women who face the challenges of balancing college, parenting and a job. At the end of the first year, Linda got a grant enabling her to get STNA training, which provided employment in the medical field for the rest of her college years. She worked hard and was lucky that her kids were good students and were on board with her goals. She says, "My kids learned early. I told them, ‘I have my homework and you have yours,' and that's just how it was."

There were many twists and turns in Linda's life during her education; two of her kids got married, and she got remarried – very happily! –  and moved. That caused her to leave Lakeland and transfer to Kent State Ashtabula. In 2018, after years of persistence, she was awarded an Associate's Degree from KSU and became a Registered Nurse. She continued her education and earned her BSN in February 2020. Incredibly, she has just started working at her dream job as a hospice nurse. In her excitement, Linda explains, "I tell my patients I am an old new nurse. Some nurses my age are tired and ready to retire, but not me. Things are fresh and different, and I feel called to hospice."

When looking back at her time at Lakeland, Linda says, "I can't imagine how I would have gotten anywhere without the Women's Center. I went there nearly every day! I used to say they should have a padded place where we could go and bang our heads against the wall! I was so overwhelmed and had no confidence but the Women's Center was such an anchor. You always knew you would find a hug, great support and hopefully some good candy. There was so much I didn't know, and I had to ask. The Women's Center is where I went to ask, over and over.

"For me, transitioning from being a pastor's wife and being the person who took care of everyone to being a person who needed support and care, well, that was difficult. I was a fish out of water, at a loss, terrified. I was so green when it came to any kind of electronics! How would I type a paper? But bit by bit your confidence builds. You do well on an assignment, you have a supportive teacher and you find that you ace their class. It gets better."

Linda's large family was supportive, but she told her kids, "You can't make me a grandmother until you throw me a graduation party." Sure enough, at her party on the night she graduated, her son and daughter in law made that special announcement; she would, indeed, be a grandmother!

"It was a long road, and so many times I thought I would quit. But you can't because you want so much to believe in yourself. And then that starts to happen and you do begin to believe in yourself. The Women's Center helped me do that." She wraps up by saying, "my 40s were hard but so far the 50s are pretty good! I'm in my happy place now."

Clotilda – Celebrating Our Graduates

Clotilda graduated this  (2020) with a degree in human services. She also earned a certificate in Chemical Dependency and Case Management. Clotilda has been working in her dream field for 8 months already. She feels well-matched and loves her position at New Directions, which she plans to continue, while pursuing her bachelor's degree with Lakeland's Holden University Center at Youngstown State University. Clotilda, originally from Africa with a rich heritage of equal parts Zimbabwean and Zambian, is passionate about all students, especially international students. She urges everyone to embrace the "new world" of education and proclaims that "You have got to do what you've got to do" during the pandemic and online schooling. Clotilda also insists that alertness, awareness and involvement will help support new students as they find their own, right path. Of course, she also encourages students to become involved in the Women's Center, which she calls her home away from home.

Angela  – Celebrating Our Graduates

"I never thought I would get there, but here I am, a butterfly, who has escaped the cocoon, and I am now onto my next chapter in life. I can never say enough about the Women's Center, or what they have done for me. They made me who I am today, and with that I say thank you from the bottom of my heart. I leave Lakeland with a little piece of everyone who has crossed paths with me, and I will be forever grateful for the encouragement, empowerment and positive support I received from the women of Lakeland."

Erin – Celebrating Our Graduates

The Women's Center first met Erin when she joined our FEMM program (Female Empowerment Through Merging Minds). When this tall, poised young woman walked in we were amazed that she was a high school student. She continues to impress us to this day, when we can proudly state that she graduated with a 3.97. Erin will be attending Cleveland State in the fall where she will be studying political science and pre-law. Erin says, "Lakeland and programs like the Women's Center have made it possible for me to succeed as a high school student in college."

Tiffany – Celebrating Our Graduates, Nursing, Class of 2020

"As a student who has encountered a fair share of bumps in the road, I would tell other students not to be discouraged by setbacks or failure-- learn from them instead. Remember that the present moment is the only time and space where we truly exist. So wherever you are, be fully present, make the most of it, and don't wait/wish for a more convenient opportunity (because it may or may not come). We often allow self-doubt and the thought of possible ‘worst-case scenarios' to stop us from achieving goals. Likewise, we brood over setbacks that cannot be changed, like delays or interruptions in attaining our college degree. But exactly where you are is where you're supposed to be. Don't stop 'till you're proud!"

Alta – Student Feature

"Something I learned from my father; you cannot reach perfection while you are stressed. It is a pretty tough moment for everyone now, during the covid 19 pandemic. My advice for women new to challenges would be ‘Always remember to be grateful, stay positive, and keep a smile on your face no matter what the situation.'

The day that I found out that all my classes were going to be online, I had mixed feelings. I was happy because I did not have to wake up early and drive around with school responsibilities. I was also sad because I did not know how my Chemistry class was going to be online. My teacher is a very nice person and he expects quality work. I did not realize how serious the shutdown was until I received a call from the Women's Center. Mary called me and said to me, ‘Hi Alta, how are you doing? You are on my support list, so I called to make sure you are doing okay with the transition.'  I started to ask her lots of questions and she answered all of them. She also informed me about all the help that is available on campus. I want to thank the Women's Center for their support since the first day I walked into Lakeland."  Alta is a native of Haiti and is heading toward the Lakeland nursing program.

Teevi and Kristel – Student Feature

Teevi Tasane Champa and Kristel Champa are a mother and daughter duo enrolled at Lakeland. They would both like to encourage other women who are enrolled this semester and have been forced into an all on-line curriculum. Teevi says, "Don't give up! Be positive! We only have two weeks until the end of the semester and I believe in you all. Give your best!" Kristel reminds us, "Like they say in cross country, finish strong." Both women credit the Women's Center with helping them stay positive, and providing needed support and resources. Teevi enjoyed visiting the virtual office hours. "The Women's Center gave me such positive energy during the web call. We had such a great laugh!" Her final message is, "If the end gets hard, call the Women's Center or reach out to me. We're all in this together."

Tracey and Kim – A Mother/Daughter Journey

As a young high school graduate, Tracey Schveder was unable to move away and embrace a "traditional" college lifestyle. Rather, she stayed home to take care of her father who was ill with cancer. This is when Lakeland first came into her life. She earned a couple of certificates in Accounting and Business Management, but stopped there to get married and raise three daughters. When her youngest one started school, and Tracey was 39, she headed back to Clocktower Drive.   

"I was so glad that I was approached by Mary from the Women's Center when I went back to school," Tracey said. "The WC was so supportive of me and they gave me a sense of belonging as I went through 3 years as a student."   

Tracey earned an associate's degree in 2010 and went on for a bachelor's. "I was happy for the Franklin University partnership that allowed me to get my bachelor's degree while I did my studies from home. Without these programs I would not have been able to get my education."   

These days, Tracey is using her education to follow her passion, which is health insurance. "I have always had an interest in our health care system, since my Dad grew sick with cancer. I am very passionate about improving our health care in the USA. My dream is to assist in creating a health care system that is excellent for ALL Americans."  Tracey is getting a head start on that dream as a Licensed Health Insurance Broker in a new Health Plan Superstore at the Great Lakes Mall. As an advocate, she guides people through our very complex system, at no cost, and helps them obtain insurance plans via the Affordable Care Act or Medicare.  

But going back to when Tracy was a student… at that time, the Women's Center offered Saturday potluck luncheons for students who were enrolled on the weekends. Tracey attended and brought her daughters on occasion.  As Kim, Tracey's middle daughter, approached her high school years, Tracey encouraged her to attend Lakeland through the PSEO (now CCP) program. Kim was already comfortable on campus and considered the Women's Center to be her on-campus home. Additionally, she couldn't wait to take math classes here.   

It turns out Kim LOVES math. She cites Calculus 1 and 2 as the best Lakeland classes she took. She was so gifted that she became a tutor for other students in math. After two years, Kim got her AA and AS just weeks before receiving her high school diploma. She stayed at Lakeland one more year and joined Phi Theta Kappa which resulted in scholarships for Cleveland State. By taking every possible class she could at Lakeland's lower prices, and applying for all the scholarships she knew about, Kim was able to walk the stage for bachelor's degree with money in her pocket!  

At Cleveland State, Kim was a part of the McNair Scholars program, which empowers low income and first-generation college students in the sciences. This got her noticed by the University of Akron who offered her a teaching assistantship, which meant she got a master's degree in statistics for free. With that checked off her list, she is taking a "gap" year while searching for a PhD program. What is she doing during her gap year? Teaching math at Lakeland, of course! Amazingly, she has accomplished all this by age 23! 

"It feels great to be back," she says. "I liked my other schools but I missed Lakeland daily."  

Although only a few weeks into the semester, Kim is enjoying her teaching job here (two sections of Math 0850.) She also looks forward to continuing her passion with a PhD in bio statistics or data science.    She loves encouraging students and says, "If you went through problems in your childhood or teen years, the grit and determination that got you through will also help you succeed in college. Those qualities will help you grow and become a better person!"  

It seems all the women in the Schveder family are following their goals and passions. According to mom, Tracy, "When I graduated from Franklin University, I passed my Lakeland book bag on to my oldest daughter and she is now a teacher at Cleveland Heights School District and working on her master's degree. I then inspired my second daughter Kim to try the high school program at LCC and she journeyed through Lakeland, Cleveland State University, and Akron University. She is now starting her professional career at Lakeland as a math professor. My youngest daughter attended Auburn Career Center and she is now my favorite beautician. I love seeing how my daughters are persevering and growing into strong young women." 

Isn't it amazing how education can impact a family! 

Women's Center Essays
Excerpt from Essay by Kilelea Summerville, Social Work Major

As I reflect on the incidents in black history and our democracy, I realized that the world needs more kindness and compassion. This would be one of many ways that I could continue to help someone. With more kindness and compassion in the world, it would give more individuals the opportunity to showcase that same kindness and compassion to others. Also, more kindness and compassion helps others to realize that they are not alone in their struggles and challenges.

I would like to help change the policy framework so that policies work for all citizens of society and not for the selective few. A strong democracy strives to meet the needs of all its citizens and allows them to have a voice to address the issues that matter to them. If certain policies are only set to serve a certain percentage of people, it only sets the tone for more inequality and discrimination. Strong policies that are set in place allow people the opportunity to have the resources and tools that they need to live a successful life.

I will say that we must continually ask ourselves what kind of America we want to reside in, a society that serves all citizens or a society that still embraces racism and inequality?

Excerpt from Essay by Haji B Williams, Nursing Major

Over the years I have watched entire communities be marginalized and denied quality healthcare resources. With little explanation, hospitals like St. Lukes and Mount Sinai, once staples in the community, were closed, leaving residents to rely on their own resilience and resourcefulness to find an alternative healthcare solution. Power and influence should not determine who is entitled to healthcare. The ability to receive proper health care should be a universal right, one afforded to all people, not just some people. Empathy, compassion and love are key ingredients to caring for the elderly, vulnerable and the sick. I plan to use my education to be a part of the solution.

Excerpt from Essay by Emily Hughes, Nursing Major

As I reflect on black history and the democracy we live in today, I know that we as a society need to do better. I am making it my responsibility to start with myself and those around me. Everyone needs to understand that black lives matter and they will be treated as such when in my care... We need to fully acknowledge the struggles of Black Americans and do whatever it takes to make them feel comfortable in that vulnerable position. I will aim to allow them to feel peace even if it's only for the time I spend with them. I will work in an environment where bigotry is not tolerated and kindness is expected. I want to be educated and to educate those around me. Ideally, we will achieve a status quo of inclusion and knowledge sharing so that harmony can be achieved. We are all human beings; we should treat each other accordingly.

My hope is that my example will cause a collective ripple that changes the way we interact with each other. If I want to live in a world of peace, consciousness and acceptance, it has to start with empathy, knowledge and responsibility.

Excerpt from Essay by Janice Robinson, Associate of Arts and Associate of Science

By becoming more knowledgeable and educated, I am better able to confront issues surrounding science and technology, daily affairs, and even the human condition and future of mankind. Through post-secondary learning and the experience that comes with that, I can approach problems systematically and search for solutions that could have a decidedly positive impact on society.

In completing my education, I am setting myself on a path toward success. I know I have the increased knowledge it takes to become a fully contributing member of society. Having a job through my education will enable me to help someone financially with their education somewhere, somehow, and someday to also be able to contribute. We can fashion our own success and be free to do what we can, as Mandela said, "to change the world."


"It's important to have a place to go to reconsider certain options and to talk things over."
Bonnie Konig

"If it was not for the Women's Center, I would not still be attending Lakeland."
Q. Drummer

"In my opinion, at Lakeland I have found the most support, encouragement and community at the Women's Center. I could not have done this without them."
Betty Jeffries

"I love you guys! You all are very helpful and make my day every time I come through that door."
Moonisa Halim

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