Dreams Become Reality, One Step at a Time
By: Amy Hinman
In the SOL Youth Program office, on a metal bookcase crammed with program binders and SOL memorabilia, there is a framed newspaper clipping from 2011. The paper is starting to yellow and the photo is lightly faded from the sun. The picture is of students in the SOL Summer Learning Academy with attorney Joy Fossel on the roof of the Varnum building in Downtown Grand Rapids. Markyshia Meadow, then a junior in high school, is one of those students. Four years later, Markyshia smiles with SOL Program Director Rachel López, again on the roof, but this time as a Varnum employee.
“I still can’t believe I’m actually here!” she gushes, as she shows us around her workspace.
Markyshia works in the file room shelving documents, verifying information and using the Varnum database. In the bowels of the Varnum building, she leads us up and down the tall rows of files, all meticulously checked, re-rechecked, and in her words, “perfect.” In addition to her position with Varnum, Markyshia also studies Criminal Justice at Grand Rapids Community College and when she talks about her future, her voice pitches with hope and awe.
“I want to be a lawyer for child protective services cases. This job is getting me closer, you know? Being with those types of people that are already where I want to be.”
Markyshia blushes when you ask her why she wants to be a lawyer. She flips her long, braided hair over her shoulder, joking about enjoying spirited debates.
“Really though,” she says, suddenly serious, “I grew up in the system. I don’t agree with how certain things are done. And I feel like…if I don’t like how something’s done, I’ve got to work to change it.”
For Director of Youth & Parent Services Director Rachel López, Markyshia is an example of how the SOL Program supports students.
“Once students join the SOL Program, it’s for life. We individualize the experience for every student and follow up with them even after the program ends. This past summer I was in a meeting with Joy Fossel and Dawn Stephenson from Varnum brainstorming ways we could partner. Joy mentioned a potential student intern and I immediately thought of Markyshia. I called her to see if she still wanted to be a lawyer, like she had told me four years ago, and four weeks later she was working at Varnum.”
Markyshia agrees. Without the SOL Program, she says she would have been unprepared for the professional work environment. What really stuck with her was advice from Youth Advocate Ricardo Martinez: Do your best, because you never know on whom you’re going to make an impression. This echoing advice helped Markyshia in her Varnum interview.
“Don’t be afraid to talk to people, especially adults. I was afraid to do the interview because I was thinking, ‘oh my gosh, this is a law firm! These people are so well-known and experienced, and I don’t have a lot to offer,” she admits thinking.
“Words can’t express how proud I am of Markyshia. She has persevered through the toughest of times and she deserves this opportunity a thousand times over. She is one of the hardest workers I know and I can’t wait to see where she’ll be in another four years.”
Markyshia is proud of how far she’s come.
“I remember thinking ‘I’m not smart enough to be [at Varnum] yet. But I had to stop thinking like that, because now I’m here and there are people who want to see me do good and be successful.”
Amy Hinman is the Grant Writer & Social Media Specialist at the Hispanic Center. She currently resides in Grand Rapids, Michigan with her husband, and pet fish, Piccolo.