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Graduate Tampa Bay: Single Mom Conquers Fear, Disability To Return To School

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Naples resident Jodi Bell knows adversity. She knows what it's like to raise two young children on her own. She knows what it's like to be homeless and to feel without hope. She also knows what it's like to ask for help, to overcome her fears, and to live her dreams.

Bell and her ex-husband moved to Naples from New York in 1998. She worked in the insurance industry, but her passion was always to study law. For most of her life she lacked the self-confidence to follow this passion, until three years ago when all of that changed.
   
The transformation started when Bell left her unhappy marriage in 2007. With no family in Florida other than her one-year-old daughter, she had nowhere to turn. As difficult as that was, she now looks back at that decision as the beginning of an incredible journey. After a bitter custody battle, Bell became homeless with no job and just a suitcase of clothes. After eight weeks of living in her car and staying with friends, she was able to find a job and an apartment, and regained custody of her daughter.

The next year Bell got pregnant again. She was terminated from her job, leaving her once again feeling hopeless. She received support through her church and a local pregnancy center called Care Net. In January of 2010, at the age of 37, Bell made the life-changing decision to finally pursue her dreams and enroll at State College of Florida (SCF) Manatee-Sarasota.
 
"I wanted to provide a good life for my kids without having to depend on anybody,'' says Bell.
 
The experience was scary at first, she says, because of her low self-esteem, which was somewhat amplified by a vocal cord injury that makes her speech hoarse.

"I was petrified the younger people in my class would make fun of me if I had to raise my hand to answer questions, or the teachers would not take me seriously.''

Ironically, this fear was overcome through a Fundaments of Speech course, which required her to deliver six speeches in front of the class. Finding encouragement from her professor and fellow classmates, Bell found each speech to be easier to deliver than the last. 

Now, with no fear of public speaking, Bell is proud to have told her story to 400 people at Care Net's Annual Gala.

"My dedication and perseverance in each course helped me to gain some self-awareness and overcome some fears. I haven't allowed my vocal disability to prevent me from succeeding or doing well in my studies,'' says Bell.

Providing Inspiration

Bell credits her success in college to the people there who believed in her -- her professors, fellow classmates and on-campus resources such as the Academic Resource Center, which offers tutoring, labs and test preparation.
 
"Everything I lost about myself, I gained through SCF.''

When she graduates this month with an Associate of Applied Science degree in Paralegal/Legal Assisting, Bell will be the first in her family with a college degree. She is currently interning with the Manatee County Attorney's office and plans to pursue a career as a paralegal.

"I just want to try to inspire other people in whatever situation that is preventing them from taking that step,'' says Bell. "There are a lot of people that would love to go to college, but something is keeping them from doing it.''

Megan Hendricks is a native Floridian and longtime Tampa Bay resident who loves the culture and diversity of the region. In her free time she enjoys local restaurants, thrift store shopping and spending time with her family. She earned her masters of business administration from USF Tampa. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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