Matched savings supplied the motivation and support student needed

One of Jhey J Chavanne’s short stories, “No Cake,” is about a first-grade teacher and a spirited little dark-skinned girl in her class.

One day, during a birthday celebration at the school, the teacher snatches her slice of cake away, calling her a “burnt brat.”

Young woman with baby son on her lap.Jhey J was that little girl.

The eldest daughter of Haitian immigrants, Jhey J was traumatized by the racism and poverty of her childhood in a New York City suburb. She went mute for a year in junior high school, failing classes because she was unable to answer the teachers’ questions.

Her silence, however, didn’t smother her creativity, or her drive. And after high school, when she moved to Manchester, N.H. with her mother and five younger siblings, she knew what she needed to do.

“I thought, if I’m going to do anything with my life, if people will ever take me seriously, education has to be it.”

At Manchester Community College, Jhey J connected with teachers who cared about her success. To afford it, she worked as many hours as she could at a big-box store. She was exhausted and barely studying. Something had to give.

So she took a break from college. She got a better job, at a jewelry store, and saved so she could focus on school full-time.

Two years later, a determined Jhey J re-enrolled at MCC. Her counselor, who knew she was going to food pantries and struggling with school expenses, connected her with the Individual Development Account program. If she could save $500, even a little at a time, IDA would match her savings with $4,000 she could use toward tuition and fees.

Jhey J started earning As and Bs at MCC while earning the IDA match at work. When her son, Landon, was born in summer of 2016, she sometimes brought him to school and found quiet nooks where she could study while rocking his stroller with her foot.

This May, she graduated with an Associate’s Degree in Business Communication. And this fall, she starts work toward a bachelor’s in new media communications at Southern New Hampshire University.

The IDA, she says, was huge, and not only for the much-needed tuition money. She felt supported, and motivated to stay focused on her goal.

Her achievement wasn’t a piece of cake. It was more satisfying than that.

This story originally appeared in the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund’s 2017 annual report.