One of Zyna Caron’s guiding principles is to be able to help those who are less fortunate. Indeed, it’s been a goal of hers long before she decided to complete her degree.
“There’s a need out there in the universe,” she says.
She knows first-hand. Dealt with what she calls a “challenging childhood,” Zyna became a homeless teenager at age 14, and she lived on the streets on her own for several years.
Although homeless at the time, Zyna managed to earn her high school diploma on time, attended college (off and on), and eventually connected with one of her biggest sources of inspiration in life in 1999 – her husband. When they met, he coincidentally was a student at Ashford University* and was involved in the social services field. Enthusiastically, he encouraged Zyna to consider getting into direct care work as a peer support person.
So, nearly twenty years ago, she followed her husband’s advice and began working with a wide variety of populations, including the homeless, developmentally disabled, those with substance abuse issues, traumatic brain injuries and mental illness. Her empathetic nature and strong work ethic made her a natural fit in the field, and Zyna was awarded several awards for her work, including one for Certified Peer of the Year in her current home state of Michigan.
“Through it all, I never stopped learning,” she acknowledges. “I never stopped going to school despite my wreckage, my past. There was always somebody out there to help me stay the course.”
Now Zyna is helping others stay the course by sharing her story and showing them that it’s never too late to follow your dreams.
While employed as a peer counselor and raising her three children, Zyna continued to slowly take college classes. In her mid-forties she enrolled in Ashford and recently graduated Cum Laude with her Bachelor of Arts in Health and Human Services.
Currently, Zyna is studying for her master’s degree at another institution, with her eyes already set on earning a Ph.D. in psychology.
“When you’ve been dealing with homeless people who have been on the streets, you get them into a house. And the following week, they’ll be right back on the street. I want to know, ‘why does the mind send a person back there?’ I want to learn that purpose.”
Acknowledging that the way Ashford’s program is set up for ease of learning was a key component to her success, Zyna also reveals she had no trouble reaching out for help along the way. She often turned to her family, including her 4th grader, acknowledging with a laugh, however, that they would run from her as she carried her laptop over to them with questions.
“When you’re doing online education, you’re teaching yourself a lot of the time,” she says. “With the way Ashford provides information, they make it easier to understand.”
Zyna also got some unexpected school help from her clients.
“I had a math course that was one of my most challenging courses,” she recalls. “I was doing my studies and working alongside some of the homeless people. As luck would have it, I bumped into a couple with double master’s degrees, and they walked me right through navigating that tough class. You never know what type of situations in life put people where they’re at, but everyone feels good when they can give back.”
Now that she has her bachelor’s degree, Zyna says her employer created some new programs within their organization so that she was able to get promoted from a Certified Peer Recovery Coach to Case Manager. She also has branched out to work with four different employers within the same types of people and populations.
Knowing the importance of education, she finds herself encouraging those she works with to consider continuing their schooling.
“First, we have to think of all the essentials, like a roof over their head, food, and clothing before we can dive into the next step of their lives. But eventually, we know they will get there,” says Zyna. “We help them look for scholarships, for free GED classes, etc. I help them take it one step at a time.”
Next on Zyna’s to-do list is a project that she began dreaming up with her husband years ago. Although he sadly and unexpectedly passed away in 2012, she’s determined to turn their mutual dream into a reality.
“I’m opening a home for young teens between the ages of 16 and 25 who have been homeless, pregnant, or don’t have their GED.” Called “DiscoverMe,” she’s registered as a non-profit in Michigan and will be establishing a live-in shelter that helps provide all the services young women might need to become self-sufficient.
“The ultimate goal is about giving back,” Zyna reiterates. “I want to help open doors for people and put people back on the path of what they really want to be doing.”
Certain degree programs may not be available in all states.
*Ashford University is now the University of Arizona Global Campus.