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‘Even if Their Heart is Broken, I Always Tell Them, Never Give Up’

September 22, 2021 | Jeffrey Good

‘Even if Their Heart is Broken, I Always Tell Them, Never Give Up’ image

Working with young learners, Angela Gilmore hears stories of all manner of hardship: Exhausting work schedules, sleepless nights as a teen parent, trouble with the law, trouble with boyfriends, trouble putting food on the table.

“Even if their heart has been broken, even if they’ve gotten into trouble, I always tell them, ‘Never give up,’ ” says Gilmore, a graduation candidate advocate (GCA) at St. Lucie Acceleration Academies.

“Perseverance” is more than a word for Gilmore. It’s a quality she’s built, at no small cost, over five decades.

She grew up in Okeechobee, Florida, as the eldest of 7 children. She endured childhood illness and spent a lot of time in a children’s hospital in Coral Gables, Florida. She was well on her way to a high school diploma when family members needed someone to look after their young children. Gilmore dropped out so that she could pitch in.

“Being the oldest, I helped out as best I could,” she says. “I put myself on the back burner.”

Education is a priority in Gilmore’s family; her siblings have earned bachelor’s, master’s and PhD degrees. But as a young mother, she had to put her plans on hold while she worked and parented full-time.

Gilmore worked three decades for St. Lucie Public Schools, picking up children in a school bus and delivering them safely to their schools and back home. She would wake her own children up early, feed them a hot breakfast and then settle them into a “nest” on her bus to accompany her until she dropped them at their schools.

She also worked as office clerk at Performance Based Preparatory Academy, which was at that time led by Dr. Sunny Booker, now Director of Alternative Education for the school district. When it came time to retire, Gilmore found she could not be idle.

“I thought I would enjoy being home, but there was a void in my life,” she says. “I missed working with youth.”

She took a job working with Chrysalis Health and the Department of Juvenile Justice. In that role, she again had the chance to work with Booker. By that time, she had earned two associate’s degrees but felt she didn’t have the energy to push forward to her bachelor’s.

When Booker asked her educational plans, Gilmore recalled, “I said, ‘I’m done with school.’ “

“No you’re not,” Booker replied. “You can do it.”

That encouragement helped Gilmore change the course of her life. She studied hard in her spare hours and, in her 50s, earned her bachelor’s degree.

“Even when I wanted to give up, Dr. Booker, she was my mentor. She took me under her wing.” When Gilmore more complained of how hard it was to juggle studies with the responsibilities of full-time work and single parenthood, Booker asked — with kindness — “Did you expect it to be easy?”

Dr. Sunny Booker, shown here with a recent grad, “took me under her wing,” says Gilmore.

Through Booker, Gilmore heard about St. Lucie Acceleration Academies, which works in partnership with Booker and the district to provide a non-traditional path to graduation for students who haven’t found success in traditional settings. When she began work in 2018, GIlmore found that she already knew many of the graduation candidates. She had transported many of them during their elementary, middle and high school years.

She has a special place in her heart for young moms, and shares her own story of juggling many responsibilities while also keeping the children at heart center. She understands their struggles, but — like Booker — she doesn’t let them give up on themselves.

“I tell them, ‘You can’t do this because you have a child? Giving up is not an option. If you want better, you have to do better.’ ”

She makes herself available to GCs every day of the week, and sometimes around the clock. If they need help with an academic or life challenge, or if they simply want someone to listen, she picks up the phone or meets them on campus.

At every graduation ceremony, she beams as the young women and men she has mentored stride across the stage to claim their hard-won diplomas. She knows the effort they’ve made, the pride they and their loved ones feel, the hope they carry to the future.

“Sometimes tears flood my face because someone had told them they would never graduate,” she says. But Gilmore had told them the could, “just as Dr. Sunny Booker told me I could.”

“When you put on that gap and gown, you can say, ‘This is something I’ve earned — and nobody can take that away from me.’ ”

Gilmore poses with graduate at ceremony

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