"My 9 year old is quite the diva," muses Candice with a smirk. "I asked her the other day if she wanted to go outside and play. She just looked at me and said, 'Mom, I don't sweat!'"
Candice experienced quite a different childhood herself. There wasn't much time, in fact, to be a kid. Before she was 10, she became the self-appointed financial manager for the household. She had figured out that a roof over her head required that she reach the mailbox first every month to collect the government assistance check. If her mother or step-dad got a hold of it, the money would be wasted, the bills would go unpaid, and the only security she had in an otherwise utterly chaotic life, would be in jeopardy.
I met Candice for coffee at a Starbucks in south Phoenix. Not knowing how to identify her I wasn't sure if I would be able to pick her out, but the second she approached the door she walked directly to me with confidence, the most contagious smile, exuding infectious energy and enthusiasm. After brief introductions, I encouraged her to pick out something for breakfast. She asked the clerk about a delicious-looking pastry, but then stopped herself, "No... no, I just worked out. I want something good for me. I'll take a yogurt instead. Yes, that's what I want."
Growing up in a home riddled with addiction, violence and abandonment, Candice recognized what takes many of us years to realize - life is made up of choices. She chose to protect and care for her mom rather than take up permanent residence in the safety of her grandparents' home. She chose to stand in defiance of her crazed step-dad and report his violence to the police. When she became a mom herself at 16, she chose to do whatever it took - even sleeping in her car - to keep her child rather than allowing protective services to intervene. Most remarkably, when she realized that her boyfriend was caught in the same cycle of addiction as her mother, she ended the relationship but filed for guardianship of his daughter, hoping to give her a chance at a healthier life. Candice was now responsible for two "daughters."
Today, Candice continues to reach beyond what is easy for what is best. She sees education as a pivotal tool to her release from the grip of poverty and hopelessness that is all too familiar. Acquiring her GED, she then graduated from South Mountain College with her Associates degree in Business. Most recently, she has been accepted to the prestigious W.P. Cary School of Business as ASU where she will double major in Financial Management and Business Communications. She is already planning with her advisor the next steps necessary to pursue the pinnacle of her academic achievements, an MBA from Harvard.
"Thousands of people attend Harvard Business School. Why can't one of them be me?" Candice asks with palpable confidence and determination.
If ambition has anything to do with it, there is no reason at all.
Susan is a Helping Hands volunteer and is married to Helping Hands board member, Jon Sweet.