Gateway Student Given a Second Chance, Determined to Succeed

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Gateway Community College’s Workforce Alliance and Continuing Education (The GREAT Center) is committed to providing individuals with the skills they need to re-enter the workforce and establish themselves as professionals within their community. When Jaquam McCoy walked through The GREAT Center’s doors, his tenacity and strong work ethic made a lasting impression. His story serves as a strong example that you can overcome adversity and emerge victorious.

McCoy, born and raised in Waterbury, Connecticut, encountered some unfortunate circumstances, fell into the wrong crowd and paid for it in a big way: He spent eight years for armed robbery in the first degree at the Manson Youth Institute. When he was release at age 23, he realized that he had to start from scratch.

“I didn’t really have the support of my parents, so I knew that it was up to me to better myself and start living a life that I had always envisioned," he said. "I had allowed myself to become a product of my environment, but that was no longer the case.”

With a part-time job and a car, McCoy looked forward to the next step in getting back on his feet. In December 2016, he walked through the doors of The GREAT Center and inquired about the different programs Gateway offered.

“The women in The GREAT Center have been of so much help and provided me with the information and tools that I needed to succeed,” said McCoy. "Pam Walsh [continuing education associate] was the first person to help me. She sat with me as we carefully looked over what my best options were, career wise. I was covered by the government through SNAP, and there were a good number of programs to choose from. Eventually, we decided on the Distribution and Supply Chain Logistics course, which includes a forklift certification."

He continued, "I’m always thinking about the next move, the next project, and steps I need to take in order to get me there. Music is my passion, that’s ultimately what I want to pursue, but it’s not time yet. I need to take several steps first, and this certification is one of them.”

Once McCoy got his certificate, he applied to 10 job openings in the morning, and 10 at night for two weeks straight.

“You can’t expect that things are going to be handed to you. You need to put in the work,” he said.

“He’s someone that is driven to change," Walsh said. "It’s refreshing to come across someone as determined as Jaquam, he’s going to go very far.”

Victoria Dancy, program manager for The GREAT Center, spent a great deal of time with McCoy, not only as his teacher for the program, but also as his mentor. When asked to sum up her experience working with McCoy, fighting back tears, she said, “Jaquam is the living testimony that there is hope, a second chance, and a bright future for everyone. He personifies everything that this program is about; helping people back up who have had a bump in the road, and providing them with a pathway for employment and molding them into being productive citizens within our community." 

Because of his persistence, McCoy was the first person in his program to get a job. He now works at Trinity Solar and plans to work towards his education at GCC in the fall, majoring in business and minoring in social work. Although McCoy has made quite a few changes in his life, he will never forget where he came from. He frequently speaks at Manson Youth Institute, where he served his eight years, to encourage those still there through hard times and remind them that they’re loved and appreciated.

“Before you expect anyone else to believe in you, you have to believe in yourself," he said. "Being in prison empowered me. I’m not ashamed of my past; I want to use my story to help people. That’s really what it comes down to."

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