by Neree Aron-Sando
Carolyn Hennessy could have become a stereotype: a high school dropout and single mother, working nights, weekends, and holidays to barely support herself and her daughter.
And that was her life for a number of years because of an untenable family situation.
“I had to drop out of school in the 10th grade to support myself and find an apartment. I always wanted to get my GED and go back to school, but there was always too much drama in my life to make this feasible,” she shared. “I worked dead-end jobs for years and then got pregnant with my daughter when I was 21. After my daughter was born, I did a complete life change and straightened myself out. I worked really hard to support us, and she became my inspiration to be a better person.”
Unfortunately for Hennessy, now 34, and her daughter, “being a better person” required a commitment to working 70 to 80 hours a week.
“It seemed like the right thing to do at the time. I missed every weekend and holiday and barely spent any time with my daughter. Based on my work schedule and financial restraints, I basically ruled out ever returning to school,” Hennessy said.
When her daughter became involved in sports, Hennessy had an “awakening.”
“All of a sudden, it hit me how much of her life I was missing out on,” she said. “Basically, mix no time with my daughter with low self-esteem and a series of toxic relationships, and I realized that I had never learned to stand on my own two feet. I toyed with the notion of going back to school and convinced myself I was finally in a place in my life that it was doable. I signed up for classes, part time at first so I could work full time, and I’ve never looked back!”
Hennessy originally chose Montgomery County Community College because it was convenient to her Royersford home and because classes worked well with her schedule.
“It was affordable, and I had always heard great things about the nursing program,” she said.
At first, Hennessy took just two classes at a time while working full time. Then, she lost her job, which enabled her to enter KEYS (Keystone Education Yields Success), a state-funded program that helps welfare and single parents pay for costs associated with education, including tuition, transportation, child care and books.
“After being laid off from my job, I went back to school full time and joined the Student Government Association (SGA) as a senator. I figured this would be a good way to meet people and help out around the school,” she said.
Through SGA, Hennessy became involved with the Pottstown Cluster Outreach and volunteered at a homeless shelter in Pottstown.
But the obligations of a full-time nursing program and family filled her time.
“This past semester I ended up needing to complete 20 hours a week of community service in order to stay in the KEYS Program,” Hennessy said. “I reached out to Grace Spena, the director of Health and Wellness at MCCC because I wanted to give back to the school.”
Spena coordinated weekly nursing projects around school for Hennessy, including blood pressure screenings, and information tables on topics like stress management, HIV awareness and drunk and distracted driving.
“These projects were great because they not only improved my nursing skills, but they helped me to educate my peers. My time at Cluster reminded me that I was very fortunate for what I did have and made me better understand community needs. This helped me out a lot in the nursing program,” Hennessy said. “My time with Grace prepared me for my nursing career and allowed me to work with a truly compassionate and caring nurse.”
Hennessy received the Grace Mary Spena Memorial Award during the College’s student awards banquet on May 14. The award, created in honor of Grace Ann Spena’s late mother, is given to graduating students who have “demonstrated commitment and excellence in the area of community service.” Hennessy was also one of two student graduating speakers during the College’s end-of-year KEYS banquet.
On May 17, Hennessy graduated from the College magna cum laude. She has already been accepted into Drexel University’s online RN-to-BSN program.
“My passion is to work in public health nursing, hopefully working with the underprivileged,” she said.