Student found support system at VC when she needed it the most
Paula Antwine shares her story of how she turned her life around
VICTORIA, Texas – Paula Antwine, who became homeless at the age of 15, found herself with only two options in life – living under a bridge in Dallas’ South Oak Cliff neighborhood or going back to prison.
Antwine became illegal to drugs at the age of 18 and became pregnant while living on the streets of South Oak Cliff.
“I was a product of my environment,” Antwine said. “It seemed like I couldn’t get out. I ended up going to prison four times. I would keep going back. It was all I knew. I think I just gave up. I didn’t have anything to go back to when I got out.”
A phone call five years ago from a caring cousin, along with a support system Antwine found at Victoria College, helped the 52-year-old transform her life. She is pursuing her associate degree at VC, anticipating becoming a counselor to help other women like herself overcome drug addiction and other challenges.
“I’m very passionate about helping people who are homeless and suffering from mental illness,” said Antwine, who was recently named a winner of the Victoria College Foundation’s $1,000 “What’s Your Story?” scholarship contest after submitting an essay telling her story. “I want to help those people who are caught in drugs and coming out of prison.”
If Antwine hadn’t received that phone call from her cousin, Deborah Smith Pegues, her cycle of incarceration would have likely continued. Pegues is a motivational speaker and bestselling author of 18 transformational books, including “30 Days to Taming Your Tongue.”
“She asked me what she could do to keep me from going back to prison,” Antwine said. “I told her I wanted to go back to school, and she asked me what was stopping me.”
Over the years, Antwine had accumulated debt from taking vocational classes, and Pegues offered to pay off the debt so she could afford to enroll at El Centro College in Dallas.
“That was the first time I was actually motivated to do anything. I didn’t have any excuses,” said Antwine, who obtained her GED while in prison.
While attending El Centro College, Antwine still felt the tug of the streets; therefore, she decided to move in with her middle child, Sarah Antwine, in Victoria. She immediately found the support she needed after enrolling at VC and applying to VC’s KEY Center, a TRIO Student Support Services program, funded fully by the United States Department of Education.
“I just wanted somebody to look at me and tell me I was going to be OK,” Antwine said. “Everyone at the KEY Center would tell me I could do it. I would come in some days and tell them, ‘I can’t do this.’ But they would stand there with me and encourage me. They would push and sometimes carry me.”
Eventually, Antwine got her own apartment and invited her brother, Derrick Giddings, to move from Dallas and live with her in Victoria. Both enrolled at Victoria College, and Giddins graduated in May with his Process Technology Certificate.
“I told him I understood what he was going through because I had been there,” Antwine said. “I told him he didn’t owe me anything. He didn’t have to stress about money. I just told him to get in school and he did. Then he really took off.”
Next May, Antwine is due to obtain her associate degree and plans to pursue her bachelor’s degree at the University of Houston-Victoria.
“If you would have told me five years ago I would be thinking of a bachelor’s degree, I would have said you were crazy,” Antwine said. “I’m just so thankful for Victoria College for giving me a chance. It shows the world that your past doesn’t define who you are.”
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