#DECAATTProject Helps Turn Despair Into Advantage

It’s not every day you meet a student who has everything going for them – intelligence, good health and home life, no financial challenges and excellent school environment.  In fact, today, the exact opposite is more common. That is why the partnership between Akron Public Schools’ North High Career Education Marketing department and the #DECAATTProject is so crucial in helping young, disadvantaged students like Heaven Perry rise to their potential.

There is nothing uniquely different about North High senior Heaven Perry’s circumstances.  If you had asked her three years ago what she thought her high school career would look like, she would have responded with little hope for her future.  But because of the partnership between North High and the #DECAATTProject, Heaven has a different outlook on her future.

Heaven comes from a disadvantaged background where her homelife is filled with one challenge after another.  She often feels the pressure that comes from  challenges such as having a mother who suffers from chronic illness, financial lack so extreme that the family of five has had to struggle through months without running water, continual talk about bills and possible eviction, and a step father and siblings working two-to-three jobs to make ends meet. Because of her despairing circumstances, Heaven feels the need to work herself to help pay for her mother’s expensive prescription medications and other household expenses.  If these challenges were not enough for a young 17 year old, she also suffered from low self esteem ― feeling like she was not good enough, pretty enough, or smart enough to fit in or be accepted when she came to North High as a sophomore.

When Mr. Mathews, North High Marketing Teacher and DECA Advisor, reached out to Heaven to invite her to the annual summer DECA camp, Heaven accepted very apprehensively.  She knew nothing about DECA and was terrified of what she might be getting herself into.  Her experience turned out to be one she will never forget ― for all of the right reasons.  Although she felt out of place at first, Heaven says she developed friendships that are still going strong today. More importantly, the camp provided a safe space for her to emerge out of her lifelong, coveted shell of protection.  Today, Heaven will tell anyone who asks, “DECA camp is simply amazing.”

The DECA program has played a major role in Heaven’s social and intellectual development. She fondly recalls meeting Mrs. Tania Thomas, the #DECAATTProject Ambassador.  “Mrs. Tania’s story truly inspired me,” Heaven says.  “Her story and encouragement is why I got involved in DECA, and it has paid off.”  Heaven recounts Mrs. Tania’s transparency as she shared her own story filled with struggles of low self esteem and the challenges women and minorities often face on the road to success.  She inspired the DECA students as she told of how she dealt with the lack of confidence others had in her, and her determination to work hard and prove that not only was she good enough, but she was better.  Her message of hard work and self determination spoke volumes to Heaven.  Furthermore, her dedication to the students’ success made it very clear that Mrs. Tania was not invested in the students’ lives just for her own benefit.  Heaven was genuinely impressed by Mrs. Tania showing up at their state competitions with great words of encouragement.  Heaven speaks fondly of Mrs. Tania as she recalls how she always listens, gives advice and motivates everyone to do their best.

Because of the partnership between North High and the #DECAATTProject, the North High DECA students have been able to experience far greater opportunities than they ever would have independently.  The sponsorship program has opened the door to trips, workshops, competitions and more.  Heaven, for one, was greatly impacted by their visit to AT&T’s corporate office in Cleveland, Ohio. Being able to experience the corporate setting awakened something in Heaven that she didn’t know existed. This may have been the turning point for her and her career aspirations.

Today Heaven acknowledges that had she not been introduced to the DECA program, the #DECAATTProject and Mrs. Tania, her high school career would have taken a completely different direction. When asked what she thought life would have been like without DECA and the #DECAATTProject, her countenance fell as she responded, “My time in high school would be a blur.  Nothing would stand out, and I probably still wouldn’t have any idea what career path or degree I would want to pursue.”  Because of Mrs. Tania’s influence, and the impact of the #DECAATTProject, Heaven has made great strides in her self esteem and ambitions.  She is excited about her plans to attend Kent State in the fall to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration, with a minor in Communications.  She also plans continue on after undergrad and pursue a Master’s Degree in Business Administration.  For Heaven, this is a huge step. She will be the first in her family’s history to pursue a college degree.  She is extremely grateful for Mr. Mathews, the DECA program, Mrs. Tania and the #DECAATTProject for their influence and impact on her life.  Heaven acknowledges that without them, she would not be who she is today.