August 14, 2018
The phrase “you can’t do that” has fueled Brenda Leake for more than 50 years. To Brenda, the doubters are just another reason to work harder towards her goals. “I’ve been sick all my life and I have to work through it, work around it, work past it, whatever! It is my motto to show people that anything’s obtainable.”
Brenda, who was born with Cerebral Palsy, has never let the negative words of others sway her from achieving what she sets out to do. She’s been told she couldn’t get her driver’s license, couldn’t have children and couldn’t hold a job. Yet she’s done all three of those things and is on her way to achieving so much more. Her Goodwill Retail Guide Taylor Hopkins can confirm this.
Taylor’s role is to assist Brenda with achieving her long-term educational and employment goals. For nearly three years, Brenda has worked side-by-side with Taylor to overcome barriers and achieve her goals. The first on her list: getting her high school diploma.
“All my life I have been sick, and when I was in high school I was going to be a nurse, but I got sick and couldn’t finish,” Brenda shared. Although she left school more than 30 years ago, she never gave up on her dream of working in the healthcare field. “My goal is to help people like me — it doesn’t have to be a physical ailment, could be a mental ailment. I just want to give back everything that I have been given.”
After discussing her goal with Taylor, she enrolled in Goodwill’s Excel Center. She went to class Monday through Thursday while continuing to work at the Avon Goodwill store. She hit a few bumps along the road, including a tough Algebra class and some health setbacks, but Brenda’s determination, focus and positive spirit led her to success. “I was determined to walk across the stage, by myself, and I did even though I could barely walk. I did it and if I can do that I will push through anything else,” she said.
“What I find most inspiring is that she never stops! Once she earned her high school diploma it was shocking how much more she wanted after that,” Taylor shared. “I’ve seen lots of people reach that one goal, but Brenda reached that one goal and kept on going.”
Next on Brenda’s list was to get her finances in tip-top shape so she could continue her education. Through Goodwill’s Center for Working Families (CWF), Brenda worked with a financial coach to pay off bills, improve her credit score and increase her savings.
While participating in the CWF program, Brenda heard about United Way’s Breaking Barriers Grant, powered by Taft. The grant awards CWF participants up to $2,000 to help them achieve long-term financial stability. Brenda had set her sights on receiving her medical assisting certificate but was still short on the funds to afford the course. The Breaking Barriers Grant was her chance to fulfill her dream of working in healthcare.
“We sat at the library and spent two hours putting in the application. It was two hours well spent! We really wanted it to stand out,” Taylor stated. Their hard work was well worth it – Brenda was chosen as a grant recipient, and quickly told all her friends and family the good news. “It’s going to change my life because I will know more about the medical field and I can do my lifelong dream of helping sick people,” she stated.
Although many have doubted her along the way, Brenda knows she is on the path to achieving her dreams. In just 11 weeks, she will graduate with her medical assisting degree and do one more thing people said she couldn’t. “When you accomplish something as a disabled person, you are accomplishing something for all disabled people. When people say there is stuff I can’t do, I will go out and do it with all I got.”
Brenda’s drive and determination to receive her education and better her life won her the recognition of Goodwill’s 2017 Education Achiever of the Year, one of the most prestigious awards from Goodwill. She shares more about her story in the video below.
United Way would like to thank Taft for their recent corporate gift that sponsors life-changing Breaking Barriers Grants through Centers for Working Families (CWF). The Breaking Barriers Grant, powered by Taft, helps put Central Indiana’s most vulnerable neighbors on the path to financial stability. Learn more about how CWF is lifting people out of poverty and helping them achieve long-term financial stability here.