So for the past year, Latasha and Faheem rose at dawn to catch the bus to daycare before her YouthBuild Newark school day began at 8 a.m.
At 4 p.m., she hopped three buses to her job as a Pathmark cashier, which didn’t end until 11:30. Relatives helped take care of Faheem, her three-year-old, but sometimes he cried for her to stay. Latasha felt a pang of guilt, knowing she wouldn’t see him until the next day.
“It was hard. I wanted to stay home. But I had to do what I had to do because I knew it would better him in the long run,” says Latasha, who is 23. “I came here because I wanted to be his role model. I can’t tell him finish school if I didn’t. That would be hypocritical.”
For now, she rarely takes Faheem outside because she’s worried about the violence in her neighborhood.
“He’ll be looking out the window like, ‘mommy, I want to go out there,” she says. “I want to live in a place where we can walk to the park and go out front, where he can ride his bike.”
Latasha dropped out of school at age 17, when her family moved. Her mother never enrolled her in the new school district. But even before that, Latasha was going to house parties instead of the gifted and talented classes she had attended in middle school.
“I just had a lot of freedom at that age,” she remembers. “It was hard for my mom financially because there were six of us.”
Latasha worked a succession of minimum wage jobs, sometimes two or three at a time after her son was born and his father faded from their lives. “I was just trying to keep a roof over our head,” she says. “Before I came to YouthBuild Newark, all I thought about was working.”
Since she enrolled at YouthBuild Newark, Latasha passed her GED test and is planning for the future. She’s hopes to become a registered nurse. With help from teachers and her case manager, Gisele Bartley, she’s been visiting college campuses, like Rutgers and the College of New Jersey. In January, she plans to start classes, after she buys a car.
“I want so much more out of life than I ever imagined before,” she says.
At YouthBuild, Latasha has learned “discipline, patience, commitment and determination,” she says.
Bartley has seen a change, too. “When she started, she was quick to just leave, but since the beginning of the program, she’s been sticking things out. She took her SATs and she did really well. She’s ready to make things happen. I’m proud of her, she’s handling a lot, and most people would have quit, but she perseveres.”