Unstoppable: Profiles of Three Unique Graduates
Dominique Douglas, Associate in Arts in Psychology
For many, family provides the primary source of love in our lives. Family serves as an anchor, giving us perspective and a reference point for who we are, showing us our place in the world.
For Dominique Douglas, though, family was something that she badly longed for. At five years old, she was taken from her parents and placed in the foster care system, where she spent the rest of her childhood and teenage years.
“I was lost for a very long time, trying to find my place and purpose in the world. I had no sense of direction, and didn’t know what was right or wrong. For months and months, I cried, asking why God put me in this world with no help, love or peace of mind,” said Douglas. “All I wanted was love… I was longing for it all my life. I needed to feel like someone wanted me or that I was important to just one person.”
The constant change of environment and switching homes eventually took a toll on her, and she dropped out of high school. At 18, she gave birth to a premature baby boy, Jerome King, who became her guiding force and reason to persevere. “He is the reason I finished my degree and am doing something that will better our lives,” said Douglas. “He makes me want to be better because I don’t want him to go through what I been through.”
Day by day, Douglas has remained steadfast in building and putting the pieces of her life together. While the process may at times be a slow one, every journey begins with just a single step.
One day, a Broward College commercial appeared on television. For Douglas, it was a significant moment, an important turning point, and the push she needed to begin her journey toward a better future. After she obtained her GED, she enrolled at Broward College.
While she has had a few academic challenges and at times wanted to quit, she never missed a single term. Douglas credits her understanding and patient advisor Donica Young with giving her the motivation to carry on and finish what she started. “There were so many times I cried to her and said I was going to give up. She never gave up on me. She stood right there motivating me, telling me that I could do this.”
Douglas’ educational journey will not end at Broward College. She plans to obtain a master’s degree in social work and later a doctorate degree in psychology. One day, she’d like to work for the Florida Department of Children and Families and later open up her own non-profit organization to help children.
“I think you have to strive to become what you want to be, no matter what your past looks like, and never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something,” said Douglas. “Everyone faces problems, but you have to get up and try again. A problem is only a problem when it can’t be fixed. Even when people say you can’t do something – try. Life is what you make it.”
If there is anything that Hope Novello knows for certain it is that life is a fragile gift – one that can completely change in an instant. On a spring day in 2007, she suffered an aneurysm rupture, which released blood into the spaces around the brain and caused a life-threatening stroke.
Doctors quickly intervened, performed surgery to stop the bleeding and saved her life. Afterward, Novello was put into a medically-induced coma, and for six weeks, she was placed on life support. She remained in the hospital once off life support to be monitored for other potential complications. Following rehabilitation, Novello was sent home in a wheelchair with a feeding tube in her stomach. She was unable to use the left side of her body.
Novello, however, is the true embodiment of her name, “Hope.” Where many would see darkness, she saw hope – a new beginning and a second chance. “Instead of focusing on what I don’t have any more, I choose to look at everything that I do have in my life. And I am so incredibly blessed,” said Novello. “These events have shaped my life and are really all blessings in disguise.”
Although her road to recovery had numerous obstacles and challenges, Novello has persevered. Eight years since her aneurysm, she still cannot use her left hand, but she learned to walk with the use of a cane and has learned to operate a motorized wheelchair to navigate around. The stroke has far reaching effects, affecting her cognitively. Novello has memory problems, as well as difficulty concentrating, which have both contributed to issues with learning.
Occasionally, Novello also has seizures, which are common in people who have had a brain injury. To combat this, she takes anti-seizure medication, which unfortunately causes memory loss and poor concentration. Trying to strike a balance by finding the right medication and dosage has been an ongoing issue. Today, she is still trying to identify the right medication for her that will cause less side effects.
“Learning has been difficult for me because of these problems. I joke that I have two speeds – slow and slower. But that’s okay because, ultimately, I get it done. I do not let this stop me from doing anything that I want to do,” said Novello. “I have to work twice as hard and as long, but I just put my head down and persevere, keeping my eye on the target.”
Remaining dedicated to her studies, Novello sometimes spends 20 hours a week getting tutoring to pass a class and get closer to her dream of a college degree.
“I had always wanted to go to college, but marriage, children and finances got in the way. After I got hurt and was given this new chance at life, I really wanted to become financially independent and give back to the world.” After working in the customer service industry for more than 25 years, she decided to enroll at Broward College and begin her journey of making a difference. With the unwavering support and unconditional love from her three children, Novello has made it far. Her perseverance and amazing spirit have paid off.
This December, she will cross the stage to receive her associate of arts degree in social work. Her educational journey will not end here though. In January, she plans to attend Florida Atlantic University to obtain a bachelor’s degree in social work, preparing to eventually work in disability services or as a therapist, where she can give back to others who have experienced a similar situation.
“My philosophy in life is my belief that kindness does really matter… and that you get back what you give,” concluded Novello.
Many dream of dedicating their lives to helping others and making a real, meaningful difference in this world. Yahalia Franklin does not just dream, but she works hard every day to create the change she envisions.
“There’s a need to restore compassion, love and peace in our local communities. And the best way to make change is to begin with small steps,” said Franklin.
Relocating from Chicago to escape an abusive husband, Franklin started all over in South Florida with her three daughters. For years, she worked in the healthcare field and focused on raising her children. In 2011, her daughters challenged her to further her education. So, she enrolled at Broward College to pursue a degree in psychology, studying what she is most passionate about – helping people. Although her journey as a non-traditional student with responsibilities outside of the classroom had challenges, Franklin never gave up.
“Growing up, I didn’t think I was smart enough, even though everyone around me thought I was intelligent. Self-esteem is a killer of dreams, but I took it one day at a time and told myself ‘finish what you started Yali – you can do it.’ Then, I got stronger and stronger, kept going, and never gave up,” said Franklin.
Keeping her head high and focusing on the idea that change really does happen one step at a time, Franklin extended her passion for helping others outside of the classroom, becoming very involved on campus. In 2013, Franklin was elected president of the Alpha Delta Rho chapter of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. While president, she became a three-time top ten volunteer for HandsOn Broward. In 2014, she became the president of the on-campus ASPIRA organization, which focuses on empowering the community through advocacy, education and leadership of its youth. She also participated in numerous volunteer opportunities, including coordinating a clothes drive for the Jubilee Center, a local community center that assist the homeless with food and clothes, as well as participating in food banks and numerous charity walks. Most recently, she was awarded the Golden Rule International Award and the Global Leadership Award, which is given to those who impact their community positively by improving the quality of life of others through humanitarian leadership.
With a strong will and passion to help local families, Franklin challenged herself to follow through on a dream, and became the creator and proud owner of 4-My Angel’s, LLC, a transportation company that provides services to families to visit their loved ones in penitentiaries and detention centers, focused on uniting families during difficult times. “So many people in jail lose hope, love and self-worth, and leave their families behind broken, confused and lost. Despite their errors, they still need love and support.”
Franklin has many more dreams. She plans to continue her studies in psychology, as well as expand 4-My Angel’s. Ultimately, her main goal is to assist battered women and men, children of all ages and others in the community. She is determined to succeed.
“One of my philosophies is to live out my given purpose, face my fears and never beat myself down about my errors because they’ve made me stronger,” said Franklin. “To anyone in a similar situation, I would say finish what you started – it’s not a cliché. If you dropout, you’re choosing to give up on your future. Stay the course and choose to be the best you can be.”