Speandilove Nelson is the first winner of the Susan L. Barnard Leadership Award.
Fabrizio DiDomenico is a GED graduate. ~Photos by Julia Fairclough

SCALE’s annual awards and graduation night celebrates many inspirational success stories

By Julia Fairclough

Speandilove Nelson couldn't abide by a culture where decisions were made for women and education rarely factored into their future plans.

It took leaving her family in Ghana to fulfill her dream to pursue a career in nursing. Nelson was honored with a leadership award during the SCALE awards night and graduation last Wednesday.

SCALE provides classes and support services for individuals 16 and over who need help with basic reading, writing, and math skills; as well as offering high school credentials.

"I have come to learn that in life you choose your own circumstances," said Nelson, a pre-GED student and the first recipient of the Susan L. Barnard Leadership Award. "You have to follow your heart, knowing what you are doing is right."

Susan Barnard worked at SCALE for 34 years and was the supervisor there for more than a decade. After her retirement in 2008, the Susan L. Barnard Leadership Award was established to recognize a SCALE student who balances work, family, and school, yet manages to assume a leadership role.

Nelson, 35, demonstrated leadership by helping fellow students and actively participating in SCALE community events.

Nelson's mother died when she was 11. Her father insisted that she learn a trade-dress making-instead of pursuing an education. Nelson was forced to leave home and work in a factory for a while, before she had the chance to go to Everett to visit her brother in 2002. It was a hard time, and she had to fight off the bitterness she felt towards her father.

Nelson traveled on a three-month Visa, but fate intervened to keep her in the United States. She had met a man on the plane to the United States who wound up falling in love with her and insisting she be his wife.

As soon as Nelson heard of SCALE she enrolled, visibly glowing with joy as she recounted her story, just minutes before heading into the high school auditorium.

Fabrizio DiDomenico, 39, a GED graduate, never had the chance to finish high school. As a 16-year-old living in Gaeta, Italy, he had other things on his mind. One being living the life of a rebellious teenager.

As the years passed, however, it weighed more and more heavily on his mind that he should graduate from high school. He was born in Cambridge, and lived in Somerville until he was eight, and then had gone to live with family in Italy. He returned to Somerville and attempted to matriculate into Somerville High School, but got discouraged.

More years passed, which encompassed a landscaping stint in California and working in HVAC with his brothers.

Finally, a little over a year ago, he started to go to SCALE. He was ready. He was committed. He showed up after working with his brothers, determined to get his GED.

"When I finally got it, it felt awesome," DiDomenico said, with a grin. "Life does not always happen as you think it will. But once you have a desire to get something accomplished, it all falls into place."

Maria Chagas, 52, a GED graduate and native of San Paolo, Brazil, moved to Somerville eight years ago, after finding she had "fallen in love" with the United States. She worked as a chef at a Mexican restaurant for a while, but then yearned for more in life. Every time she thought about pursuing a job in business, she was told she must have at least a GED.

"I realized that even if I have my citizenship in the United States, I don't have an education," she said. "There are so many more opportunities in this country, I wanted to take full advantage."

When she arrived here she did not speak any English. Everything she knows, she learned at SCALE, Chagas said. And it had been about 32 years since she had studied. To do it all over again, and in another language, was a huge feat of which she is very proud.

"For me to get my GED is as important as my citizenship," she said.

Chagas is currently a babysitter and her contract will expire this fall. After that, she wants to figure out what she wants to pursue through volunteering. She is most attracted to social service organizations.

"Some people say I should relax, but I don't want to stop now," she said.

Jose Wilfredo Lara, 19, is an ADP graduate. Obtaining an ADP is a faster way of getting through high school, he said. Once he hit his junior year at Everett High School, Lara simply wanted to get out into the "real world." He plans to go on to college, studying general studies before he narrows down his career plans.

"At SCALE you just learn so much," said Lara, a Somerville native whose family is from El Salvador. "You get a feel of what it's like to be out on your own in the real world. You learn about how to buy a car, obtain a loan…It's a great program."


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