Grad in gown

When Opportunity Knocks…

Denise Hutton says the old adage is true, when one door closes, another door opens. 

Six years ago, Denise made a bold choice to unlock her future. She had just lost her job working as an administrative assistant in the city of Chicago. She worried about what her options would look like at 56 years old. She knew her lifetime of experience wasn’t going to be enough to stand out in today’s job market, so she investigated her educational options.

“I had to find a way to reinvent myself and figure out what I was going to do next,” said Denise, of Flossmoor, IL. “I just couldn’t sit around and feel sorry for myself.”

As she navigated her opportunities, Denise learned about a grant through the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership which helps underemployed and unemployed workers to return to school to earn certifications. She applied for and received the funding she needed to get started towards her management certificate through South Suburban College.

“South Suburban went out of their way to help me. They have caring professors and my experience has been phenomenal,” said Denise. “I have had fantastic teachers like Dr. Herman Stark who showed they want the best for you. It has truly been an amazing experience that I would recommend to others.”

With the economic downturn and disproportionate unemployment growth in minority communities due to COVID-19, Denise believes community colleges will be more critical than ever before. She hopes her story can be an example for others who are struggling or losing hope. 

“If someone is out of work or underemployed and they are looking to go back to school, this is the time,” she said. “The more you can learn, the better equipped you will be for what is out there.”

Denise’s persistence paid off in more ways than one. Her positive momentum from the grant and success in the classroom resulted in two more scholarships this year: $2,000 from Victory Apostolic Church and $1,000 from the South Suburban College Foundation.

Denise said her first entry to college was stalled during her teenage years because she struggled with higher level Math. She viewed that as an obstacle that she now realizes she could have overcome with the tutoring and support services offered at community college. “Going back to school and achieving at my age has given me such satisfaction; it has been so gratifying. As a young person, I didn’t understand the value of education.”

Today, Denise’s passion for education and the confidence it has provided are an unstoppable force. “Don’t let decades go by before you go after your dreams – if I can do it anyone can.” Opportunity is knocking.