The Power of a Education
As a young girl, I equated dinnertime with the mouth-watering taste of my mom’s authentic Mexican food amidst “colorful” discussions about who was going to help my parents out later that evening. By day, my mom was a housekeeper, and my father worked as a foreman at Union Carbide. Each evening, after a long day’s work, my parents would bring us along to clean health spas and various banks. To this day, I am still in awe of my parent’s ability to balance their rigorous work schedules with our family life year after year.
So, with such incredibly busy schedules, it wasn’t surprising that we didn’t sit around the dinner table discussing educational opportunities. In my family, success was not synonymous with education—it was synonymous with work. As a matter of fact, I can still remember a day in high school when I spotted a girl in the back of the classroom taking a practice SAT exam. I even asked aloud, “What is she doing?” And someone responded, “She’s taking a test to get into college.” I thought to myself, “College…what a waste of time.”
Around the same time, my parents divorced because of my father’s inability to stay off drugs. This was a particularly difficult period in my life because I was extremely close to my father. He was a fun-loving person with an exceptional work ethic. It was heartbreaking to witness how addiction could weaken even the strongest of men.
As a result, my family subsequently dismantled and I went to live with my grandmother in Colton, leaving my mother, father, sister, and brother behind. I felt lost. But even though I didn’t know what the future held for me, I knew one thing for sure: I didn’t want to work at the local Chevron gas station for the rest of my life, which is where I was working at the time.
Next: North West College
“I’d suddenly begun a new journey.”
Fortunately, my sister told me about a College called North-West College in Pomona. She was enrolled in the Dental Assisting program and loved it. So, with absolutely nothing to lose, I found their number and called to inquire about their programs. The following week, I drove to the College to meet with an admissions representative and quickly learned that the Medical Receptionist/Medical Billing program would be the best fit for me. I enrolled that very day, then drove back to Colton and quit my job at Chevron.
I’d suddenly begun a new journey. I made the drive from Colton to North-West College in Pomona every day, which was not so bad except for the fact that my 1969 VW convertible did not have a top and I could not afford to buy one. I drove everywhere, including the smoggy, loud freeway in that convertible–day or night, rain or shine. The evenings were particularly uncomfortable because I had to wear a ski hat that covered my entire face just to stay warm. Can you imagine how ridiculous I looked?
In addition to my ‘topless car” issues, I had a real tough time scraping gas money together. Luckily, I had a girlfriend who lived near the campus who let me stay with her. The only drawback was that, when I stayed with her, I would have to park my car down the street and sleep in her closet because her parents did not want a friend “squatting” at their house during the week. We were able to get away with our sleeping arrangement for several months, until her mother found out.
In an effort to help, my wonderful grandmother began giving me her beloved silver dollars for gas. Even with her generous help, a few times a month I had no choice but to pull on my trusty ski hat and sleep in my topless car in the parking lot of the College.
BackNext: Meeting Mitchell
“I was determined to finish what I’d begun.”
Amidst, and maybe even because of the immense struggles it took to attend College, I was determined to finish what I’d begun. So, I kept my chin up and worked as hard as I ever had at anything in my entire life, longing for better things. I remember sitting with my best friend in the student union eating what little we’d brought for lunch, and wishing we could afford to go out for lunch like many of the other students.
On a few occasions, the founder’s son would come to campus with his friends and there was always so much buzz surrounding his visit. Sometimes he’d walk into the student union with the master key to the vending machines and open it up to take out snacks for his friends and himself. He seemed like the luckiest person on the planet in that moment. And I remember thinking about how lucky he was to be the founder’s son, to have a stable family, and, most importantly, the key to the vending machines.
And though I held no key to machines that promised chips and candy bars, I was beginning to feel that I held the key to my future success. I would wake up every morning feeling so proud to put on my white uniform. I now not only had a sense of great purpose, but I also had a great opportunity to become a professional in a country that celebrates the American Dream. I was on my way.
Still, I faced many challenges. I suffered through some very painful toothaches without dental insurance and, of course, I could not ignore the daily anxiety that trickled though my bones, as I was just barely getting by financially. But now, I also had a sense of belonging. In many ways, the staff and faculty of North-West College were becoming my chosen family. And suddenly, my toothaches and financial woes did not seem as painful or insurmountable.
BackNext: Meeting Mom
“We shared a similar passion for promoting the empowerment of women.”
Utilizing the skills I gained at North-West College, coupled with the incredible work ethic my parents instilled in me, I eventually went on to found a consulting business that specialized in opening practices for new physicians. Yet, amidst all of these extraordinary things that had come into my life, perhaps the most magical one happened on a seemingly uneventful evening in 1990.
My friend had asked me to go out with her to a nightclub and, moments after we arrived, I introduced myself to a kind looking guy, whom I asked to dance. Later that evening, we exchanged numbers to go out on a date. When he asked me what I did for a living, I shared that I worked for a physician. As I continued to explain specifically what I did, he confidently responded, “I know exactly what you do.” He then asked me which school I attended. I replied, “A very special one called North-West College in Pomona.” His face suddenly transformed into a huge smile.
On our first date, he asked me to meet his mother. While I thought his request was a little odd, I agreed. And when I did, I was shocked. She was the Founder of North-West College, the College that had helped me transform my life. I had so much respect for her and here I was—standing in her home, on a date, with her son. All of my memories of him with the keys to the vending machines came flooding back. It felt almost unreal and yet, utterly natural.
I so loved the College that she founded, and, in talking with her, I discovered that we shared a similar passion for promoting the empowerment of women. A lifelong bond formed instantly between us. She embraced her Jewish children as much as she instantly embraced Mitchell’s Hispanic girlfriend.
BackNext: Continuing the Legacy
“I am also proudly the new ‘mom’ at the College.”
Continuing the Legacy
And as a 21-year-old, I felt beautifully challenged by Marsha Fuerst. Our dinner conversations were always centered on women and how we, as women, have the ability to do whatever we set our minds on accomplishing. She always told me that I could be an entrepreneur. In fact, it was my future mother-in-law who encouraged me to start my own company in 1995. From that day on, I became an independent, successful woman who took immense pride in making my own money and helping out my family in any way that I could.
In 2010, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with aggressive Alzheimer’s and unfortunately needed to leave North-West, because she was no longer able to communicate or walk. But her spirit and legacy lives on.
I’ve since begun working with my husband, Mitchell, who now owns the College. Together, we are passionate about continuing his mom’s legacy. I am now not only the result of her College’s celebrated success, but I am also proudly the new “mom” at the College—equally as passionate as Marsha about empowering young women and men to succeed in a world brimming with opportunities, and committed to developing a team of individuals who are committed to helping them get where they want to go.
Currently, the private college sector is under intense scrutiny, and we are facing a challenging operating environment. However, our Colleges are here to stay. We are different, and we are thriving. Maybe it’s because of my mother-in-law’s vision. Maybe it’s because we’ve been a family-run organization for half a century. Maybe it’s because, no matter what, we will always take care of the Student.
Or maybe it’s because of all of these factors.
BackNext: Empowering Others
“Life is pretty magical if we only take a chance.”
North-West College gave me the opportunity to start my own medical billing and consulting business, through which I was able to employ countless single moms and young men with their own dreams of being professional, independent, successful people. I’ll never forget sleeping in my car, counting silver dollars for gas, or hiding out in my friend’s closet. This is why I am so passionate about empowering these young people who walk through our doors—I see myself in them.
But more than that, I see all of us in them. We all have dreams, we all want to be successful, and we all want to have a calling, a purpose in life. I have found that mine is sharing with others what transformed this young confused girl with little focus, into a confident, inspired, and passionate woman who now works alongside her husband at the College that gave her a chance. Incidentally, we now own the building and parking lot where I once slept in my car. This is what I tell our students: You can turn your life around just like I did. Life is pretty magical if we only take a chance, work hard, and believe that we can be what we dream of becoming.
BackNext: The Next Generation