The following is a speech given by Claire Downs, a recent Getting Ahead graduate from Central Indiana. The speech has been lightly edited. 

Claire Downs and other members of her Getting Ahead graduating class

Every year, I have a “word of the year” that I like to live by. One year it was catharsis, one year it was balance, and last year it was transformation.

In January, my plan was to get a job as a substitute teacher, save up as much money as I could, and move to New York City in the summer. In New York, I would live out and enjoy the rest of my 20s while figuring myself out.

The first week in February, I found out I was four weeks pregnant, and my first ever five-year plan went completely out the window. In that moment, I realized I had nine months to get my life in order to provide the most stable environment I could for my baby.

Then Carol came along and invited me to the Getting Ahead class. At that time, I’d had about all the life trauma one could have: ending a job, starting a new job, being without a car, moving out of an apartment, moving into a temporary living place, almost being homeless, and having a death in the family.

During a tough 16-week stretch, the only stable thing in my life was this class. I could count on getting the $25 per week and a free meal when sometimes that was the only decent meal I’d had all day. And thanks to this class, I’ve been able to put around $300 toward my nursery.

During summer, I thought about the year’s theme word: transformation. I’d been working at a summer camp at Ball State University. The theme was “Encanto,” and our team’s name was “La Familia Mariposa.” If you don’t know, that is Spanish for “The Butterfly Family.”

Then it hit me. My year of transformation resembled that of a butterfly. At the beginning of the year, I was living as a metaphorical young caterpillar ready to have fun in her 20s. Then the pregnancy was like the chrysalis phase, during which time I busted my butt and bettered myself. By the end of the year, the transformation would be complete, replete with me having a full-time job and a new apartment and being a new mother.

If it weren’t for Carol, Becca, and the other students, I wouldn’t be where I am today. They provided me resources in getting ahead that I couldn’t have imagined. Thank you all for supporting me, supporting my baby, and supporting my partner.