As a first-generation Mexican American and the oldest sibling in my family at 31 years old, I have worked hard to get where I am today.

I grew up in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood and went to Rudy Lozano Leadership Academy before earning my GED in 2011. After participating in an information technology (IT) training program through YearUp Chicago in 2014, I enrolled at Harold Washington College.

Then, a series of challenges forced me to push pause on my education. I became a parent at a young age and spent time in federal prison. After being released from prison in September of 2021, I was motivated to continue where I left off. I immediately enrolled at Harold Washington College through the Pell Grant to pursue an associate degree in business and economics.

I worked part-time and went to school part-time while living at a Salvation Army halfway house for seven months. As a formerly incarcerated person transitioning back into the free world under probation, I was limited in the time I could spend outside of supportive housing.

But one resource was able to eliminate one of my biggest barriers to learning: the loaner laptop program at City Colleges of Chicago. Having a connected device meant I had more time and easier access to my online courses at Harold Washington College. I was able to use the laptop to complete my assignments every day after work, which was essential to successfully passing my courses.

Then, through the Learn to Own program at City Colleges, I earned the ability to keep the laptop—for good. I turned my laptop into my own personal office, and now I have a workstation at home. I would not have been able to be successful in school without it.

Along with Learn to Own, the friendly and informative staff at Harold Washington supported me every step of the way. My advisors and instructors have been so helpful that I recommend Harold Washington College to anyone interested in pursuing higher education.

In April, I was able to leave the halfway house and return home to my life in North Lawndale. I now work full-time as a plumber apprentice and will continue to study part-time at Harold Washington until I complete my associate degree. I am proud of my strong work ethic and what I have accomplished so far and have bigger dreams to own a business one day.

My sons are now nine and 13, and I know how important my presence and support are in their lives. I like to think that I’ve provided them with an example of both the right and wrong path to success. Nothing worth having is easy, but I’m blessed to have overcome the stereotypes of a troubled youth and early parent. City Colleges helped me get here.

—Jonathan Torres, Associate Degree in Business Candidate, Harold Washington College

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