A few days ago Irene Gomez proudly hung her NNU diploma on her office wall. To most people, this small ritual will seem worthy of congratulation but little else. A bachelor of science in business from NNU is indeed a worthy accomplishment, but to Gomez, that diploma will be a daily reminder that with perseverance and the powerful support of a community it is possible to achieve excellence.
Starting classes in fall 2010, Gomez knew little about Northwest Nazarene University. She had ended up at NNU “by chance” after the university where she had previously been studying closed its local branch.
The little she did know about NNU intrigued her and instilled a sense of comfort and belonging from the start of her first classes. As a single mother of two young children, Gomez’s finances and time were already stretched thin. She knew adding classes would be a temporary burden, but she was confident of the impending payoff, but midway through the degree program some major life obstacles threatened to force Gomez to drop out of classes.
When her work hours in home health were cut to nearly nothing, she had to find more consistent employment in order to provide for her family, let alone her continued education. She pursued every possible job lead, but still ended up out of work for several months. When Gomez was at a place of desperation her family, friends and community stepped in to help.
The financial aid office at NNU helped her find two community scholarships that awarded her several thousand dollars. She finally landed a job, a one-year position working with Idaho Health and Welfare. The finances were being settled, but she still needed to care for her two children.
Gomez’s two sisters, her brother, her mother and her kids sacrificed in many ways to help achieve her goal. Her sisters, mom and babysitter went above and beyond to help with the kids: picking them up, dropping them off, keeping them when they were sick, and watching them on weekends so Gomez could attend study groups. Gomez said there is absolutely no way she could have made it through her degree without their emotional, physical and financial support.
“My brother reminded me every day that my education is important,” Gomez said. Gomez said she needed encouragement like her brother’s in order to keep going during a season of life when the demands of earning her degree were met by sheer willpower.
“I’ve had people tell me, ‘I could never work full-time and go to school.’ I tell them, ‘Yes, you can! You just have to really want it and find a school that works with you.’ For me, Northwest Nazarene University was that school,” Gomez said. “When I started at NNU, all I knew was I really wanted a degree. I had no clue what I was in for or how it was going to work, but I knew I was going to school, and I was going to finish.”
Having finished her degree Gomez now works full time in a job she loves at BD Employment Solutions where she helps others who are where she was just a few months ago. She said that graduation for her was donning her cap and gown and taking pictures with her now 12-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son and knowing that she made it.
“I never thought reaching graduation would feel this great,” said Gomez, “and I’m not the only one celebrating.”
She’s right. As Irene Gomez hung her diploma she had an entire family, university and community celebrating with her.