Traci Honings always had a secret.
She found herself unemployed and a homeless mother of three not because of substance addictions, but because of domestic violence. Prior to that, Traci had always had a job, first in pursuit of a beauty career and later as an outside sales rep for a safety supply company, making more than $50,000 a year. But her employers had never realized something.
“I never even completed ninth grade and then never got a GED,” she says. “I was always able to weasel my way around that. It’s not like I was going to lie. On job applications, I just never answered the question and no one ever asked. I did corporate presentations and nobody ever knew. It was always my secret.”
After summoning the courage to leave her abusive relationship, Traci and her children found help and hope at Rockford Rescue Mission – including a commitment to her education. After Traci graduated from the Life Recovery Program, she decided it was time to finally earn her GED.
For many of Rockford Rescue Mission’s guests, education plays a huge role in the restoration process. The Innovative Education Center (IEC) prepares our recovery program graduates for the workforce. That includes individualized assistance with writing resumes and preparing for job interviews; work-therapy assignments that teach responsibility, accountability and appropriate workplace communication skills; and hands-on experience through Restoration Café and Mission Mart thrift stores. Students range from those who dropped out of high school to those who hold advanced college degrees. They can receive their GEDs, continue their college education, gain employment and establish stable housing.
Students spend three to six months in the IEC: two hours a day, four days a week. The program is self-directed and self-paced, but with help always available from Instructor Pam Thompson and about eight volunteer tutors.
Classroom training can include memory restoration, math, vocabulary, reading and reading comprehension, and computer literacy in applications such as Excel, Outlook and Word, as well as Internet, e-mail and social media. Commonly, when a student earns a GED, he or she then tackles college – and the ability to write papers becomes necessary.
Students utilizing the IEC have included nurses, chemists, psychologists and teachers. After their lives have been derailed by drugs, alcohol or trauma, and after completing the recovery program, what they often need to rejoin the workforce are updated computer skills.
Getting back into a classroom and taking the GED tests were intimidating steps for Traci. The IEC staff understood that.
“Every time we got into that Mission van to go take a test,” she says, “Pam would take my hand and we would agree together in prayer.” They prayed for success and against nervousness and fear.
On Traci’s first GED test, she scored a perfect 500 points.
“I literally fell on the floor … and said, ‘Praise God, praise God.’”
Traci grew in confidence with each test, ultimately earning her GED in about three months.
“The devil had told me all these years that I was stupid,” she says. “If he could get me to quit, I’d still believe that. This is a huge cycle broken. Where fear is, faith can’t operate.”
“I wanted to do what the enemy said I couldn’t do for all of those years. I wanted to be able to say to my children, “Yes, I have this. To set an example for them.”
In fact, Traci and her teen daughter took the classes at the same time and earned their GEDs together. Traci’s now taking classes at Rockford Career College and hopes for a career in the medical field. She’s one of about 20 Mission graduates who are currently active college students.
Wherever the students are in their education process, the IEC staff continues to walk alongside them. They pray with students before tests, first college classes, orientations … all of those first steps that can be scary.
“It’s so rewarding to see them finally get it,” Pam says. “To see students take hold and say, ‘I have to change the way I’ve been doing things.’”
“Bob,” addicted to drugs and alcohol since age 15, spent 4 ½ years in high school before dropping out. Today, at 31, he’s finished the Life Recovery Program, earned his GED and started full-time at Rock Valley College.
“I never thought I’d even get my GED,” he says. “The Mission gives you the time to settle down from the craziness, not only to get to know God but get to know yourself. They always strongly encourage that you (earn the GED). I see plenty of people come in here and leave without it. If you want it, you can get it, and they’ll do everything they can to help you get it.”
-- by Jim Killam