The Look of Success

Ellie struggled to pay rent and was living day-to-day. But with the support of Communities In Schools, she's looking forward to a career in fashion.

It has been more than five years, yet for Ellie Densford, the memory of that day still feels fresh. The officer was talking, “…your mother is in jail …,” she made out. She remembers immediately thinking, “What’s she in for this time?” Her mother’s drug addiction and previous arrests meant it was not unusual for Densford and her two younger sisters to find a squad car parked outside their home. “It was never a surprise to see the police,” said Densford. “But that didn’t mean it hurt any less.”

Densford was 17 then and had already been saddled for years with such weighty adult issues as worrying if she’d be kicked out if she did not help to pay rent, and if she and her sisters — Aubrey, 15, and Kara, 16 — would end up being separated. In addition to her workload as a high school senior, Densford also had two part-time jobs that kept her busy at night and on weekends. And although she’d always loved fashion — when she was younger, she recalls her bows had to match her outfit — she never imagined having a career or that college was a place for her. That is until she started participating in an after-school tutoring program and was introduced to Communities In Schools of South Central Texas.

As part of a program called Project Success, Densford met weekly with Liberty Nicholas, the Communities In Schools site coordinator at New Braunfels High School. The sessions covered college readiness for roughly 100 students. Nicholas also helped Densford with setting and achieving goals, staying motivated and learning how to adapt to changing life situations. Within months, the power of this one-on-one relationship had helped Densford map out a strategy to become the first in her family to go to college.

“Meeting Miss Liberty was life changing,” she said. “Before Communities In Schools, I didn’t have mentors or anyone to guide me. They encouraged me. And at a time when things were down, I remember it made me feel uplifted. They made us feel like even though it was bad at the time, things did not always have to be that way.”

Like a personal stylist in training, Densford paired the resources she received from Communities In Schools with her own determination, and the resulting combination helped create a future where she’d have more opportunities.

“Ellie knew she wanted a better life,” said Nicholas, a licensed social worker. “She was overwhelmed with her work, school and home life, but she also had drive. She did the work and did what she needed to make things better.”

Project Success provided Densford and her sisters with health and human services support, school supplies and counseling to help them get through times when the family did not have a lot of food and times when they were on public assistance.

Densford is particularly grateful for a Thanksgiving meal that Communities In Schools arranged to be delivered to her family, a ride she needed on the day she took her SATs and, most importantly, that Nicholas was someone she could alwayscount on for compassion and calm.

“She never made me feel like I was hassling her with anything,” said Densford.

Today Densford is 22 and a fashion merchandising major at Texas State University, pursuing her goal of becoming a personal stylist. As part of the Project Success alumni program, Densford continues to receive comprehensive services that support her college success. Communities In Schools understands that help with yearly financial aid forms and costly dorm supplies can go a long way toward making sure first-generation students not only get to college,but stay and graduate.

Densford’s sisters followed in her successful footsteps and are also currently enrolled in college. So appreciative is Densford of the support she receives from Communities In Schools that she volunteers to speak to students at her former high school, and has given tours of her college campus to inspire them.

“I want to let them know they can do it — overcome whatever obstacles they’re facing and achieve their goals,” said Densford. “I know it’s possible because I did.”

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