While scrolling through his Twitter feed last summer, 26-year-old Steven Bahena came across an article about a press conference where Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced the new Fresh Start program at City Colleges of Chicago. The lifelong Rogers Park resident visited the Mayor’s account to learn more and saw that the initiative allows City Colleges students who left in good standing over the last 10 years to return to college, clear their debt, and earn their college credential.

As a former City Colleges student himself, having withdrawn from his courses at Truman College four years prior, Steven said the program seemed specifically catered to him – he had been thinking about going back to school but didn’t know if he’d be able to repay his debts. So, shortly after reading up on the program, he submitted his application, looking for his chance at a fresh start.

More than debt relief, Steven said Fresh Start offered him a boost of self-esteem and, just as the name suggests, a new beginning. During his first experience at Truman, he lacked motivation and was reluctant to ask for help. But with the support of the program, he was determined to do things differently the second time around.

Steven re-enrolled at Truman in the fall, earning straight As over the next two semesters and graduating with an associate degree in human sciences in spring 2021. He credits his professors and advisors at the college for providing quality support that allowed him to accomplish a goal he didn’t know he was capable of.

Through Fresh Start, Steven also took advantage of financial advising services, which motivated him to open up a savings account for the first time in his life and start building his credit.

“It was a growing up experience,” he said. “Before this, I didn’t know anything about credit.”

With his new skills and a degree from City Colleges, Steven hopes to transfer to a four-year college or university this fall to earn his bachelor’s degree in psychology and philosophy. His ultimate goal is to become a clinical psychologist and provide services and support to low-income families.

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