by Stephen Arsenault
Washington, D.C, USA
At age 25, I was assistant manager for a video store, but wasn’t challenged enough. With an empty feeling inside, I knew I had potential to do better, so after five long years, I quit. I had one week to find a new job to meet my car payment, rent, etc.
I quit on Monday. Tuesday, my friend Jeff called. Jeff has cerebral palsy and asked me to care for him because his regular worker would finish that week. The next day, I applied at the company that hired his caretakers.
I started working with Jeff the following week. It was difficult, as I provided full-time care and made far less money than previously. Jeff needed more hours of care than I could be paid for. But it was rewarding. I began to believe in Jeff and see he had so much potential.
That summer, Jeff decided to go back to school. To make it happen, I’d need to go, too, so with the interest we both had in computers, we applied at a local college. They accepted us; the only drawback was my tuition money. I wrote the Student Loans department and explained my situation.
At that point, many people pressured us not to go back to school. People said Jeff probably couldn’t do the work because of his disabilities. I understood that people wanted him to be realistic about what he attempted.
I decided to yield, to abandon my chance at school, and was hired part-time at City Hospital as a patient-care attendant. The morning I planned to quit, the school called and said to start anyway and not to worry about money.
We started. We left Jeff’s place at 7:00 a.m. every day and went to school until 5:00 pm. That fall, I nervously wrote and called about my student loan: still no word. After Christmas, I miraculously received my money and finally paid the school.
Many people left the 19-month program because they couldn’t handle it. Jeff soared to the top of the class and excelled in all subjects. He was amazing. My marks weren’t that great, but I passed every course, and we both graduated. When I pushed Jeff across the stage on graduation night, his wheelchair seemed lighter.
When I got home that night, I cried. We did it. At one point, I nearly gave up because there was no money. We had a goal, went the distance, and made it across the finish line, not alone but together. You should have seen Jeff’s face at graduation when they called him up for the “outstanding achievement” award.
Currently, we are both undergoing on-the-job training at a software company. Underneath it all, we owe our chance to the people at Student Loans. We’re not sure where this road will lead, but it’s already taken us farther than I could have imagined. It is proof that with a little help at the right time, sometimes dreams come true.
Available in The Best of HeroicStories, Volume 1.