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 Meet the students of ACE


John Smith

Dropping out of high school at age 16 to provide for a child on the way is what made sense at the time. But by age 20, John Smith determined not to get stuck working minimum wage jobs for the rest of his life and recognized the importance of education. A key turning point came when he served a short sentence for a gun charge and heard the stories of older inmates who were in and out of jail their whole lives, none of whom had a college degree. Many barely graduated high school. In order to not get wrapped up in the same cycle of poverty and violence, John knew he had to go back to school. “I saw a college degree as the only way for me to make it away from all the bull—-.”


It’s been a tiring uphill road that has required sacrifices, but John is a steady, strong climber. He graduated from One Bright Ray Community High School and immediately enrolled in the on-site ACE program to pursue an associate’s degree. After a full day at work, John heads to class and though not home until 10 pm, he knows he is paving the way for his children, brothers and sister to earn their college degrees.

John is now leading his life, not the other way around. In addition to school, he manages the catering department of a large grocery chain, overseeing 26 employees and $2.6 million in annual sales, having worked his way up from dishwasher, server, cook, and night supervisor positions. After graduating this Spring, John plans to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Restaurant Management from Drexel University, in preparation for running his own catering business.

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