Let’s just say I acquired my work ethic at a very young age starting at 4 years old. My grandparents owned a cafe in RI so as soon as we were able we, meaning me the youngest, my sister the oldest and my brother who was in the middle, began working every weekend at the cafe cleaning tables, chairs, bathrooms, the dance floor, stocking coolers, etc. working from 8 a.m. until just before noon because that was when the cafe opened and my grandmother didn’t want anyone to know her grandchildren were working there and all for twenty five cents (my sister got 50 cents because she was the oldest). What happened to child labor laws? We also worked every Sunday evening at card tournaments waiting tables until very late in the evening arriving home well after midnight and getting up for school early Monday morning. At the end of the evening the card players would pass around a jar and we would split our tips. So with my weekend “wages” and Sunday tips I saved enough to buy my first bike because my parents couldn’t afford such luxuries. We were very poor, I mean really poor, sometimes it was Ritz or Saltine crackers with milk for breakfast (at times very little milk).
Growing up we were expected to do very well in school, typically at the top of our class. Both of my parents did not graduate from high school so the expectations were placed on me and my siblings. And excel we did! I was reading at the 3rd grade level in 1st grade and I tutored other children. I even worked for the Principal in 6th grade in his office when his secretary was at lunch. Jr. High was the same, worked very hard and was brought into the accelerated division after seventh grade. I took classes in 9th grade that others didn’t take until 11th grade. Then on to high school. Many challenging classes (Chemistry, Physics, up to French 4, Calculus…to name just a few) all the while being on the Honor’s List and typically the Highest Honor’s List. I graduated in the top 5% of my class which was a very large public high school with over 350 graduating seniors) so that was quite the achievement!
We didn’t just work for my grandparents, my mother felt we should know how to do just about anything. As as result I can sew, knit, cook, bake, change a flat tire, paint, wallpaper – you name it I can probably do it. I remember one evening my mother had us shovel our entire street so that my dad would have a parking spot when he got out of work, That work ethic was, and still is, is intrinsic in my being. I always wanted to earn my own money. My parents couldn’t provide for extras so I was determined to do it myself. I went to work for Call-A-Teen at the age of 13. I cleaned homes and took care of a woman who was confined to her bed. I assisted her and her mother doing dishes, cleaning and yes even changing her bed pan. All for a whopping dollar an hour. I guess it was an improvement from the twenty five cents for four hours of work!
In high school I got a job at Newport Creamery as a waitress. I d would walk three miles to school, walk to the restaurant, waitress for four hours and then walk back home. (I know it sounds like what parents tell their children, however this is 100% true!) I was not paid much hourly and the tips were far from good so it was time to look elsewhere. My sister was working at Memorial Hospital in Pawtucket, RI so she encouraged me to apply there. I did and got a job in the Dietary Department. It was passing trays to the patients and collecting them when they were done. It was fast paced and I loved it. Albeit at the same time I had to work weekends and every holiday. To start it was only an on-call position however I felt it was a major step up and I gave it my all. Eventually I was offered a permanent, part- time position and I was thrilled. I now had a chance to earn some “real” wages and also the chance to advance. I did advance. Many of my supervisors appreciated my work ethic and my interest in continuing to learn and kept letting me move from one position to the next. Eventually I ended up being the cashier in the cafeteria earning great money and full benefits. The hours were challenging for a high school student starting every Saturday and Sunday morning at 5:30 a.m. ending at 2:30 p.m. and also working some afternoons/evenings after school. Once again with that hard work I purchased my first car. The ultimate freedom! (I used to have to take a taxi to get to work).
That position lasted through high school and part of college. Before graduation I had starting applying to different colleges. I was unsure of what I wanted to study so I decided to go to the community college. I took classes in just about everything. I wanted to try everything. Eventually I left the hospital and got a full-time job as a floating teller so I had to take classes in the evening. Eventually I took a course in Marketing and the professor was the Marketing Director at Hasbro. He was so inspiring. That was it, I was sold! I knew I wanted to study marketing. I could now combine my artistic side with my business side. A match made in heaven!
Now it was time to put my efforts into my education. I applied and was accepted at Bryant. I was elated! Full of vim and vigor I filled out all of the financial aid forms and made my appointment to speak with someone at the Financial Aid Office. I willl never forget that day. I met with the Assistant Director and was informed I would not receive enough financial aid, would not be able to attend the college and I should look elsewhere (the whole very poor story resonated in my head, not even poor enough). Thank God for resilience. All (well at 18 it seemed like a lot) of those years had taught me some valuable life lessons). I would not be deterred, there had to be a way.
This is the full circle part of my story. I applied for a full-time job at Bryant College. I got the job and started taking classes on my lunch hour (3 days a week), one night and a class on Saturday. It was a tough schedule. I would leave home at 8 a.m. and sometimes not return home until after 10 p.m. I even gave up one vacation to take a summer course. This process took 6 years. I never lost sight of my goal. I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing. I even had made the Dean’s List. Here’s the best part – the college paid for my entire education, it didn’t cost me a penny. And ironically the department I worked in? None other than the Financial Aid Office.