Dystinee Holden had dreams of what she wanted to do after graduating from Suitland High School, but she didn’t envision college in her immediate future. For Dystinee, college seemed too expensive, and she wanted to make sure she had the resources before deciding to take that leap. She had ambitions to join the United States Air Force and to work as a physical therapist, but she was unsure of the steps to take and how to get the skills she needed to reach her goals.
Dystinee was introduced to Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection (Hillside) in 9th grade at Suitland High School – and everything changed. Over the next few years, Dystinee worked hard with the staff at Hillside and she discovered that her goals were not so far from reach with a little extra support.
Several challenges arose for Dystinee on journey through high school. She struggled to keep up in her Trigonometry class, but the staff at Hillside (called Youth Advocates) offered tutoring and talked to her teacher to see what Dystinee could do to keep her grade up. Dystinee also wanted to get a job to help plan for her future and gain work experience to prepare her for life after high school. The Youth Advocates at Hillside not only helped her secure an interview at Chick-fil-A, they also conducted a mock interview to help her prepare. Dystinee got the job and attributes her experience working at Chick-fil-A to the positive change in how she now approaches challenges that come her way. What’s more, she has become more independent and has learned how to manage her own money with a bank account.
Even though she wasn’t sure it was in her immediate future, Dystinee took the chance to go on college tours with Hillside. And, it really paid off – she received on-site acceptance to three different universities. Then in the final months before graduation, Dystinee received the best news of all – she was offered a full scholarship from Hampton University in Virginia. To Dystinee, getting a full ride to college is her greatest accomplishment to date. When Dystinee walked across the stage to get her diploma a few weeks ago, she did so knowing that not only is she the first in her immediate family to attend college, but she will be able to go without added financial pressure on herself and her mother. Additionally, going to college right after high school will allow Dystinee to enter the Air Force as an officer, a higher rank than what she would have had if she enlisted right after high school.
Dystinee had the focus and the drive to reach her goals, and with the support from Hillside, she successfully navigated her way through high school and beyond. The one word that Dystinee used to describe her experience is “phenomenal.” Dystinee told VPP that if it wasn’t for Hillside’s support, she wouldn’t be going to college after graduation. She hopes that underclassmen will follow her footsteps and take advantage of the resources that Hillside and the other youthCONNECT organizations provide at Suitland.
Dystinee always knew she was destined for greatness, and now that her high school journey has come to a close, she sees that her dreams for her life are starting to become a reality.
Hillside has been supporting Suitland students for over five years. In 2014, the organization joined youthCONNECT at Suitland High School. Designed and supported by VPP, the youthCONNECT model is a network of high-performing nonprofits working in close collaboration to improve students’ readiness for college and career. From graduating high school on time to developing life goals, mastering proper workplace behaviors, and preparing for a college or technical education, youthCONNECT partners work with school staff to prepare students for adulthood. Hillside is one of five nonprofits that are part of youthCONNECT at Suitland, along with College Summit, Maryland Multicultural Youth Center, Urban Alliance and Year Up – National Capital Region.
Because of their participation in youthCONNECT, Hillside and its partners can collaborate with each other to make sure that students at Suitland get all of the resources they need to succeed. If one organization learns that a student needs support that isn’t part of their program model, they can connect the student to a partner that does focus on that issue. This allows them to take the work that they do with students like Dystinee even further – ensuring that they are taking a holistic approach in their work with each student. Working together, youthCONNECT partners provide a variety of services to collectively improve education and employment opportunities for students.
youthCONNECT is a component of VPP’s Ready for Work initiative – a six-year, $15 million investment that prepares students in three Prince George’s County high schools (Suitland, High Point and Oxon Hill) for employment and college. This three-part strategy will ensure that local businesses have a strong pipeline of talented, skilled and diverse employees from the community. By partnering with Prince George’s County public schools and government, local business leaders, nonprofits and philanthropy, we aspire create lasting change by preparing hundreds of graduates every year for paths to college and career success.
Hillside is a nationally recognized youth development program that helps at-risk youth stay in school, graduate from high school and progress to post-secondary education and/or employment. Hillside addresses chronically low graduation rates and job readiness among urban youth. It is a long-standing, effective solution to the dropout problem and has resulted in the graduation of over 5,000 at-risk youth since its inception.
Stay tuned for future stories of how youthCONNECT partners are supporting students across the three Ready for Work schools in Prince George’s County.