As a young, first-time mom, Myhanh Lopes had to make the difficult decision to drop out of high school to start working in retail to make ends meet for her new family. More than 30 years later, she realized she wanted to do more than just get by. 

Featured Alum 250x350When Myhanh Lopes was just 17 years old, she had to make the difficult choice between working to make ends meet for herself and her new baby and finishing high school. She chose her family. Myhanh started a job in retail and stayed in that industry for more than 30 years, missing holidays with her family and enduring long days on her feet. Myhahn never considered that a different career path would be available to her because retail was all she knew.

“We had to grow up quickly and figure things out to get by,” she said of herself and her then boyfriend, who later became her husband. Together, they worked hard and raised three children.

As Myhanh entered her 50s, something shifted inside her. Alongside a global pandemic, which deemed her role as nonessential for months, she became withdrawn as she realized she wanted to do more than simply get by. She wanted something fulfilling.

“I knew I was outgrowing what I was doing.”

Her neighbor of 20 years persuaded her to explore job training options at Opportunity Junction. Myhanh enrolled in the Administrative Careers Training (ACT) program to gain computer and office workplace skills.

Since leaving the classroom had signified the abrupt end of her childhood, returning was an equally emotional experience that made difficult memories resurface. Tears filled her eyes as she recalled how harsh and critical others were toward her as a young mother.

“I remember taking my daughter on the bus when she was a baby, and an older lady sneered, ‘Babies having babies.’ To this day, that still affects me. It was hard. To be 17 and to figure out what you’re doing. I think I will always carry that with me.”

Yet, despite dropping out of high school more than 30 years ago and working in an industry that required minimal technology skills, Myhanh thrived. After graduating and becoming a paid intern with Opportunity Junction, she was recognized for her abilities and offered a special position as teacher’s aide (TA).

“Everyone knew that TAs were the first to land a job after training, but I wasn’t sure I could do it,” she said, noting that she tried to turn down the offer but Opportunity Junction staff wouldn’t let her. “They said, ‘You’re more advanced than you realize!’”

From there, Myhanh quickly went on to launch a new career as a program specialist for Shelter Inc. In her role, she directly supports veterans and their families in line with the organization’s mission to prevent homelessness and provide shelter. Serving veterans is especially close to Myhanh’s heart as her father served before he passed away. She knows he would have been proud of the work she’s doing now to help them.

“It was a very rewarding experience to be part of the ACT program. If my neighbor hadn’t pushed me, I think I would have gone back to retail, because that’s what I knew.”

When asked what she would tell her pregnant 17-year-old self, she smiled, wiped another tear, and said, “Take a chance on yourself, and you will see how far you can go.”