When Letteria Fletcher received her BA in psychology in the spring of 2006, she made a bit of history. She was the first student from the Next Step Learning Center to graduate from HNU. The odds of her finding Next Step were not stacked in her favor. Homeless. Family suffering from poverty and addiction. Fletcher was a teenage runaway and a high school dropout. Today Fletcher not only has her BA but also a master’s degree in psychology from HNU (’08) and now works at Youth Engagement Advocacy and Housing Program, counseling homeless youth transitioning out of the foster care system. “I wake up every morning grateful that I get to do what I do,” she says. She is also a licensed marriage and family therapist with a growing private practice in Berkeley.
It all started to turn around for Fletcher in 1997 when she checked into the Chrysalis women’s treatment center in Oakland. Says Fletcher, “The ability to accept help is really a big factor.” When she told her counselor, Sister Lorraine, that she was thinking of going back to bartending, Sr. Lorraine quickly steered her to Next Step Learning Center, the Oakland adult literacy program founded in 1994 by the Sisters of the Holy Names and run by Center Co-Director Sister Cynthia Canning. “The Sisters worked with me one on one,” Fletcher relates. “They turned every small victory into an opportunity to convince me I was smart.” When Fletcher had trouble passing the math section of the GED, the Sisters tutored her, discovered she had dyslexia, and helped her overcome it. She finally passed the dreaded math section of the GED. “As a young African American woman whose grandma was a domestic worker and care giver for a living and whose mother was not present for much of her life, it never occurred to me that my life could be any different,” says Fletcher. “That’s why it’s so important to have somebody who believes in you and can help you craft a different vision for your future. I send a lot of our youth to Next Step. I try to show them that I believe in them, most often before they are ready to believe in themselves. Next Step and the Sisters did this for me and it has made all the difference.”