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Friday, February 8, 2019

UACCM Alum Endured Homelessness

Demetrious Jordan: A Story of Perseverance 
Two men and a woman
Demetrious Jordan at the Phi Theta Kappa Induction Ceremony, Spring 2016

In December 2016, Demetrious Jordan stood on the UACCM Fine Arts Auditorium stage, dressed in commencement regalia, and waited until his name was called over the speaker. He didn’t tell any of his family and friends about his graduation from UACCM, so he asked strangers to record him accepting his diploma holder. He kept his graduation a secret because he needed to prove something to himself. Soon he regretted it. 

“I posted [photos] on social media and family and friends saw it,” Jordan remembered. “Everyone freaked out and was so confused. They were hurt that I left them out of the loop.”

The Big Canvas

They freaked out because Jordan climbed far. Originally from West Helena, many considered him the top art student from east Arkansas. He even once painting for blues legend B.B. King, and received several art scholarships. He had always been a good student with grades that got him on the honor roll and in advanced placement classes. 

The low point was an uncertain living situation at the end of his high school years. He lacked stability living with his mother and moved into a friend’s house, where the family welcomed and treated him as one their own. In his junior year, a broken leg from a basketball game forced him to move back with his mother as he required extensive care. 
After a stint at Phillips Community College, he moved to Conway without telling anyone and had two jobs at Taziki’s Restaurant and the overnight shift at Kimberly Clark. He survived a life-threatening car accident that totaled his roommate’s car, only to be pushed out of his apartment. So he packed his belongings and moved in with a friend and his grandmother; he slept in their outdoor shed for a month as they helped him apply to live at Bethlehem House, a homeless shelter in Conway. 

For the top male student in his high school graduating class, education represented a way to advance. Though his job at the restaurant offered a possible manager job, picking “school wasn’t a hard choice,” he recalled. In 2015, he enrolled at UACCM and began college as a homeless student. “College has always been an aspiration and goal of mine so when the opportunity presented itself…I ran with it,” he said.
He was far from alone. According to a 2018 survey by Temple University and the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, over a third of college students lack adequate housing or the means to get enough food on a daily basis. Some nine percent are homeless. 

Hidden Struggles

Jordan chose UACCM because “when I visited the campus, I just fell in love with the energy, people and genuine camaraderie amongst everyone.” He was pursuing an associate’s degree in general education with the aspirations to transfer to UCA. During his time, he developed close one-on-one relationships with his professors including his psychology professor, Ray Trower, and his nutrition professor, Laura Meek. 

man with diploma
Jordan at UACCM Commencement
When Jordan took their classes, he connected with them on a personal level. “Ray Trower, he’s an all-around great human being,” Jordan said. “I always clicked with him and he was always open to offer advice and positive feedback regardless what it was about.” 

“Laura Meek was always supportive and down to earth. She was an amazing communicator in class to help people understand complex situations,” he said. 

But like many homeless college students, Demetrious Jordan’s situation was a hidden struggle. “It had been a secret for the most part…I didn’t tell anyone because I wanted to not only separate myself from foolishness, ignorance and distractions, but also prove myself and succeed by getting a degree,” he said.

Not even homelessness prevented him from succeeding, probably because he “always loved education and being competitive.” He maintained both his jobs, studied in between classes and in the Bethlehem House living room with other residents. He bought his first car while living there and moved out to an apartment after more than a year. 

His experience over the days following his UACCM graduation pushed him to invite everybody at his next commencement. In the stands cheering him included his mom and many other relatives, and staff at Bethlehem House. 

Offering a Hand

UACCM Counseling & Disability Services can connect homeless students with resources such as several shelters run by community organizations in the six-county area.  

At UACCM, there are several financial aid options. Homeless students can complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and provide proof of homelessness; apply for state aid, with approval based on criteria such as the ACT or overall GPA; apply for institutional and foundation scholarships; and apply for private scholarships. UACCM Financial Aid can help students through the process in the office computer lab. Once students receive their financial aid, they can charge a laptop, books, and clothes to their financial aid awards.

The school also offers assistance to problems related to homelessness. The Timberwolf Pantry on campus helps allow students be food secure, with two locations: the first floor of the Library Complex and in Room 125 in the Kirk Building. The pantry provides basic food and hygiene items.  In 2019, the college introduced the Student Emergency Fund that helps any currently-enrolled student meet a temporary and unexpected financial setback, with the hope of helping students stay in school. Students can make the request on their online portal account; if approved, a student can get a maximum of $50.00.


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