I participated in Getting Ahead in the Workplace (GAW) in 2017 while I was an employee at Sunshine Communities in Toledo, Ohio. Everyone knows everyone in Toledo. It is friendly to me. My circle that I have is really friendly. I think people are trying to do things here to be successful and making their way. Trying to create businesses and move forward.

I got an email about Getting Ahead from someone at Sunshine Communities where I worked. After it was in my inbox a couple of weeks, I called to see what the class was about. First of all, I liked the name of it. Where I was, I wanted to be somewhere else, so I signed up for it. I was working as a supervisor at an autism center and at Sunshine Communities. I wanted to own my own business for people with disabilities. The class gave me the push and support that I needed. Now I have my own agency that I’ve been running for a year.

The most important parts of GAW were that it helped me look at my life overall and pinpoint issues that I had in my past that I needed to deal with. It helped me looked at my health and financial situation.

In the community, I’m the type of person that likes to do stuff on my own, and the class helped me, even with coming to the class and sitting with a group of people, discussing your life and work and what you’ve got going on. It made me understand that there are people in the community that could help me, and I can help them too. we have to get together and network. I’m still in the process of doing that with my agency: A lot of people want to help, but it is a scary thing for me to let people in and help me. Crystal, the facilitator, was very supportive of me and everyone else in the class. That let me know that it is okay to ask for help and let people know I need help.

My favorite part was using the information. You will read books and go to classes, and you have this information boiling. What can I do with this information, who can I help, can I help myself? The favorite part was using the information that came through from Crystal and book. I still go back to that book and look up things. I’m in the Staying Ahead Facebook group, and I check it daily. There is always some kind of inspiration there that I need at that time. People post things that help me with financial stability, and they are free, give you the dates and times. That helps out a lot too.

Hidden rules: Well, if you want to move forward, move out of your social class group, you need to know the hidden rules of the next class you want to interact with. That is pretty hard if you are in the poverty class. It is hard to get to the next class if you don’t know there are hidden rules. We discussed a lot about it. Some of it is language: What are you talking about? You must step out of your comfort zone and get to know people in different classes and races. Just even to move forward in life.

An example is hand movements when you are talking. We were talking about how people use hand movements. It gives a clue to your social class. Hand movements make up for words—when you don’t have words.

Knowing that the facilitator was in it with us helped, like, from her explaining her past experiences and letting us have the floor when we needed it to talk. Sometimes we laughed, sometimes we cried in the class. She gave very good emotional support to each of us in the class. It helped me that I didn’t know the other people there. We got to know each other, and we still get together and have lunch now. At first, being anonymous helped. I could come to the class and because I didn’t know anybody and they didn’t know me, it helped me open up more. You can let yourself go, and then you turn around and walk out the door. Not really knowing anyone the first couple of classes, it was like a relief.

I never considered quitting the GAW class. I always wanted to know more, and I was sad that it was only once a week. I wanted it to be more. I would say to Crystal: “Can I just come sit in other GA classes with you? I will bring my own snacks and my own book.” I never wanted to leave. It was a 5:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. class. Everyone would say, “OMG, it is almost over and we aren’t going to get to see each other for another week.” It was good.

I had a trust issue when I first came to the class. I know the class helped me deal a lot with that and helped me step out of my comfort zone. From being hurt in situations—job situations, relationships—it wasn’t hard for me to go to the class and share, but it was hard for me to open up to people I didn’t know. Now I talk more and let out my feelings more instead of holding it in and letting it boil. I have stepped out of my comfort zone, even with opening my own agency and dealing directly with parents and individuals and employees. Before, I had all these ideas, but stepping out of the comfort zone kept me from going forward with my plans. The class gave me the confidence. I guess I could say it was an example for me of how to start a conversation with someone sitting in a group of people, five of us, and having ideas and not saying anything. If you weren’t saying anything, then Crystal would ask, “Tasha, what do you think?” Just from doing those little things, I now let my ideas come out.

The reason I would tell someone to take GAW is that it actually does help. It might seem like a little step or a giant step, but it helps you get ahead. Whether it be at home, in your relationships, financially, or in your health. It covers everything. I have diabetes and was not taking care of myself, and just from being in that class, looking at all aspects of my life, it helped me to look at my life and say, “I’m doing a great job in some areas, but I’m not doing a great job on my health.”

GAW helped me to look at my life overall and do little things to help me move forward, to be healthier and stable. I had not been to the doctor for a while, and so I made doctor’s appointments, and now I’m on different medication, and we are trying to control and get my A1C down. I hate doctors, I really do, but I have started realizing that just because I feel fine, doesn’t mean I am fine. I get my checkups and make sure everything is going good.

If people need the extra push to move forward in their life, the GAW class deals with everything. It helps you to realize where you are and focus on where you want to be.

My future story is already happening. I have my agency now where I offer after-school and summer programs. I have a plan to branch out and connect with other agencies. I also want to have a respite home; there is a need for that, a safe environment for individuals to go to when family needs time away.

I sometimes meet other GAW graduates for lunch and to catch up with everyone to see how everyone is doing. We have a meeting date tomorrow at my center for lunch. We just always catch up with each other to see how everyone is doing. It is always good; we’ve become friends. With the hustle and bustle of life, we can’t do it too often. But tomorrow it will be all of us and Crystal. The best part of getting together like that is knowing you have someone, a support system. We talk about everything, and we trust each other. It doesn’t go outside our group. It is a safe place. It is like, “OMG, we haven’t met in a year, I need to let go of somethings. Where is my people?” I’m anxious to see everyone.

I want to say, I think too that Crystal Darnell Harris and Delinetta Ashe, our facilitators, we were lucky to have them. They were very good together, a good team. They were both sincere, good people, and we want you to know it. They made the class even more special to me and everybody else.