Deborah Barnes’ graduation from Tidewater Community College has been 14 years in the making.

Barnes started taking classes at TCC back in 2009 as a single mom of two kids. While Barnes was studying social sciences and general studies, she sought out academic counseling and tutoring help from the Open Door Project, where she met TCC faculty member Kendra Brown. Brown would babysit her kids while Barnes took an exam.

When one of her daughters passed away, Barnes realized she needed time to process and decided to take a break from school.

Ten years later, Deborah and her daughter, Ashley, both came back to campus. This time, both of them were students – and Kendra Brown recognized them instantly.

“I came back to Open Door with open arms,” says Barnes. “Many people drop out of school because they do not have the support to stay in school. Between their jobs, family, and everything else in between, Open Door is the support system to say, ‘You can do this.’”

Although going back to school while working full time has been a lot of work, Barnes says the Open Door Project continues to offer support to her and Ashley, who is studying mortuary science at TCC and has also benefited from Open Door.

Outside the classroom, the mother-daughter duo has also won over the Student Government Association (SGA). Deborah is SGA President, with Ashley serving as Vice President.

“Even when our children are grown, we’re still their parents. I still wanted to set an example. I knew I could influence a lot of students her age, and we could reach a new generation of students as a mother-daughter duo,” says Barnes, who was then able to return the favor to other students without a support system at home. “They were able to reach out to both of us.”

When asked what’s next after graduating with her A.S. in General Studies, Barnes says she’ll still be taking classes at TCC to obtain her A.S. in Social Sciences by May 2024 and then transferring to Morris Brown University to continue her educational journey toward becoming a therapist or counselor.

“After all the things I went through to get here, 14 years later, I’m so proud of myself,” reflects Barnes.

“TCC offers so much to students to become a successful scholar, from the Student Resource Center and the Open Door Project, writing center, math labs, tutoring labs, and more. When life gets hard, you may have to stop temporarily and gather yourself, but you don’t ever have to give up. You can always go back.”