Cynthia Jenkins’ story reads like a movie script about a scrappy woman who overcomes insurmountable odds. But her story is real. The smile radiating from this 51-year-old always shines bright. But as she’s walking across the Trade Center stage at Columbus Technical College’s graduation ceremony this Thursday night, you’ll see her grin from a mile away among the estimated 375 fellow students choosing to participate (about twice that number qualified for graduation).
Cynthia Jenkins hails from North Carolina and is a veteran of the Marine Corps. She has been in Columbus since 2008 and battled a potentially deadly drug addiction for more than 20 years. When the bottom came to find her, Cynthia was homeless and beyond broken.
“It’s a gradual process you find yourself in,” Jenkins remembered. “If you are on the outskirts of society, you feel inferior and like you don’t belong. I’d turn to drugs to get rid of that pain and shame. Being in that situation, your drive is just gone; your energy is sapped.”
Through what she believes is a “God thing,” one day in 2009, Cynthia found some strength. She traveled by bus to Tuskegee for an in-house treatment facility especially designed for veterans. Upon her return to Columbus, she lived at the Open Door Community House for two years and continued to seek help through a local treatment center.
Making the decision to pursue a college education was the easy part but Cynthia Jenkins hadn’t been in school for 30 or so years and she feared the unknown. She turned to the CARE Center at Columbus Technical College almost every day for guidance, resources, and more than once, for a shoulder to cry on.
“It’s been an amazing evolution,” said CARE Center Coordinator Meg Burkhardt. “She started out so fragile but the more she came in, the more she grew. She had to learn how to be in school again. She became less fragile and more focused. Cynthia has grown so much; she knows where she’s going and she’s such a positive force for everyone around her; we’re so proud of her.”
After 33 months of scheduling and riding four bus routes per day, endless planning, executing, studying, and praying, all while maintaining at least a 3.0 GPA, on December 13, 2012, Cynthia Jenkins will be a college graduate. She is earning two technical certificates of credit – one in Central Sterile Processing (a.k.a. Central Supply) and one in Health Sciences. Her resumes are being updated and she’s hoping to land a job soon.
“I never thought I’d be graduating,” Jenkins said with a little break in her voice. “We all have trials and tribulations we have to withstand; it’s a test of your spiritual metal. But how you respond to those tests is what really matters.”