During the month of April, FTCC has shared a post on Mondays and Fridays highlighting #CommunityCollegeMonth through students, graduates and our work in the community on our social media pages, which can be found by clicking on the following links: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This is our final post acknowledging #CCMonth for this year.
Helena Rogers can tell you without hesitation her main inspiration for graduating from Fayetteville Technical Community College: her daughter, Whitley Baldwin. She died in 2016 after a battle with sarcoidosis, a disease characterized by the growth of tiny collections of inflammatory cells commonly found in the lungs and lymph nodes, according to the Mayo Clinic. Since her daughter’s passing, Rogers became the caregiver to her daughter’s children, 9-year-old Xavier and 6-year-old Kimora.
“I enrolled in school during the time my daughter was sick, and I wanted to finish because of her and especially for my grandkids,” Rogers, 62, said. “I wanted them to know education is key in this world and to get ahead.”
While Rogers completed school work in her Fayetteville home, she would help her grandchildren with their assignments. Some days, her daughter was too weak to move. She was bedridden before her death five years ago. Rogers’s school routine included waking up at 4 a.m. to finish work she hadn’t completed the night before. It gave her enough time to work before waking the grandchildren for school during the COVID-19 pandemic. Each child attended virtual schooling in separate rooms to keep them focused. Rogers would quietly peek into their rooms to make sure they stayed on task.
“It was God holding me up, that’s all I can say it was,” Rogers said about juggling her and the grandchildren’s schoolwork while mourning the loss of her daughter. “My grandkids would say, ‘Grandma, you’re always doing homework.’ And I told them, ‘Grandma wants to do the best she can do, and be the best she can be.’”
Rogers was a part-time student and prior, worked at the company Purolator before a back injury forced early retirement. A close friend in Virginia encouraged her to attend college. Rogers admitted she was shy and quiet growing up. After graduating high school, she vowed to never attend school again. That changed with the progression of her late-daughter’s illness.
Life dealt Rogers another personal loss. Her son, Aloysius Rogers, died at 37 years old from the same condition as his sister. Baldwin and Aloysius Rogers were cremated. Rogers keeps their remains in urns in her living room. She also began caring for her eldest granddaughter, 14-year-old Jyntavia, after her second son became incarcerated.
Now, life has begun to calm for Rogers. Her son is scheduled for release from prison in four months. She graduated from FTCC this past December. She earned two associate degrees in general education and in applied science in medical office administration, along with a certificate from the latter. She graduated with a 3.1 GPA.
“My instructors were very patient with me, understanding and helped me in every way they could,” she said. “I was hesitant about online classes, but loved it. I got a recommendation letter from one of my teachers as a reference for a job.”
Rogers’s grandchildren celebrated her graduation by dressing up in her graduation cap and gown. She keeps the pictures of them inside the oversized regalia on her cell phone. Rogers’ sister paid for a hotel getaway as a graduation gift. The grandchildren came, too.
“They loved it,” Rogers said.
Rogers hasn’t found a job in her field of study yet so for now, she focuses her attention on helping her grandchildren excel in school and caring for them. She made sure they saw therapists to help them cope with and grieve through the loss of their mother. May 1 marks a somber day for the family. It’s the anniversary of Whitley Baldwin’s death.
“Every year, we visit her grave to place flowers and release balloons on the day she died, her birthday and Mother’s Day,” Rogers said. “My grandchildren kept me going when I started school, and I was in school when my daughter passed. I was going to finish for her.”
Rogers said in her family, they believe in finishing what they start.