Celebrating success at Sunrise

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BENNINGTON — On the playground of Sunrise Family Resource Center, two resilient young women, Brodie O'Brien and Brittanee Gates, celebrated graduating from high school with their young daughters beside them.

The two were part of the Sunrise Family Resource Center's Learning Together program, an alternative high school program that helps men and women who are pregnant or parenting from the ages of 14 to 23. It also teaches young parents important life skills such as cooking, budgeting, and applying for jobs, and provides daycare for their children. Those classes continued online after Sunrise was forced to close to the public at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Nikia Hebbard and Tessa Martelle, who were not in attendance, are two other 2020 graduates of the Learning Together program. The women all received their Mount Anthony Union High School diplomas at the drive-through graduation ceremony on Friday, along with the other seniors.

While each of the women has her own story, they all share a hard-working spirit and unconditional love for their children.

Gates is the mother of a 2-year-old daughter, and is thankful for the program because it gave her the support she needed as a teen mother and high school student.

"If it wasn't for Sunrise, I wouldn't have graduated high school. They've done so much for me and I don't know where I'd be without them," Gates said. "Sunrise helps teenage mothers graduate from high school and helps find housing and [they] support you no matter what."

Although Gates had already dropped out of high school when she found out she was pregnant, she was determined to go back and finish to make her life better for her daughter. Gates's mother had also been a graduate of the program, and is now a licensed nurse assistant (LNA).

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"It hasn't really sunk in that I graduated yet, but I know I just want to make my daughter's life better, so hopefully I'm going to get a job and get an apartment," Gates said.

For O'Brien, two unexpected pregnancies made finishing high school incredibly difficult. She had already dropped out of high school when she found out she was pregnant with her first daughter. And when she returned to school, she found out she was pregnant with her second daughter and stopped going.

While it would have been easy for O'Brien to give up on school, she continued to study hard. Because of this, education coordinator Sara Blanchette gave her the resiliency award at her graduation ceremony at Sunrise.

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O'Brien has many possibilities for the future and is contemplating going to community college but due to the unknowns of the pandemic, she hasn't made any definitive decisions yet.

"With everything going on I don't know yet. I'm looking at jobs now, but I might do at home online learning," said O'Brien.

Both Gates and O'Brien were thankful for the daycare that was available for their daughters while they went to school.

"Natalia is my first child and being away from her was a little difficult, but you know you can trust the daycare, so that helps," Gates said.

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"I loved all the daycare providers, it wasn't too hard for me to come back at all," O'Brien said.

Hebbard is another graduate of the Learning Together program. She joined in January and is not only celebrating her graduation but her new job at Walmart as well.

Martelle has a young daughter and hopes to one day be a healthcare worker and specifically work with the elderly.

"Sunrise Family Resource Center has helped me through so much, both as a student and as a person," said Martelle.

"We've grown to become family," said Blanchette in a heartfelt speech at the ceremony on Tuesday.

For both staff and students, the program is more than just an education, it is a community that supports strong women and moms as well as their children.


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