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Florida Technical College Mom overcomes addiction and life’s hurdles, attending school with her son

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By Jeannette Rivera-Lyles

Like any other mother and son who share a close bond, Robin Stafford-Smith and Chris Stafford love to spend time together. For these two Cutler Bay Florida Technical College students, this includes accompanying each other on the journey to earn a college degree.

They both earned diplomas in Medical Coding and Billing Specialist at FTC and strive for more. Robin is working on a Medical Assistant Diploma Program, while Chris is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Allied Health Management.

For them, college was a lifelong dream that seemed unattainable at times. At 18 Robin, who is now 63, married a man who was physically and emotionally abusive, often endangering her life. Broken and desperate, she sought refuge in drugs, which caused her life to spiral out of control.

With the help of her mother, she worked hard to overcome her addiction, finding strength in the unconditional love for her two children, who are now grown. Robin has been clean for 20 years.

“When I looked back and saw what I had accomplished, there was a sense of pride, but also a sense that something was missing,” Robin said. “I enjoy learning and always wanted a college diploma, but I was a single mom of three who needed to work and was also seriously impacted by drugs and a bad relationship.

The dream kept on slipping further out of reach.”

It was not any easier for Chris, who is now 30. As a teenager he was diagnosed with depression and ADHD, struggling for years to get better. After high school, he worked in retail but found little personal satisfaction in life as a sales clerk.

“I had this desire to help people,” Chris said. “I had been fortunate to come across people in my life that helped me overcome hardships, so I wanted to be that for others.

Working at a store was not what I wanted to spend my life doing.”

Meanwhile, his mother began setting new goals at age 60. She was tired of waiting for the right time to attend school and began to research colleges. Still, the notion of being in a room with a bunch of twentysomethings was frightening.

“I graduated from high school in 1973,” she recalled.

“It had been a long time.

Young people now had iPads and smart phones. I didn’t even know how to turn on a computer, but I said to myself, ‘They are not any better than me. I can do this.’”

Robin persevered. A friend that attended FTC brought her to the school where she immediately felt at home. She registered and eagerly tackled a steep learning curve. The first task was to learn how to write aX paper on a computer.

“I was so intimidated that I cried,” she said. “But before I knew it, I had a bunch of young students coming to my rescue and offering me help.

They embraced me.”

Today, Robin knows her way around a computer.

What about Chris? Once his mother enrolled in college, he was out of excuses and chose to follow suit.

“Every excuse I had was no longer valid,” he said. “If my mom, at age 60, and after having gone through so much, was doing it, I owed it to her to improve myself.”

Chris stated that the first months were challenging, but he had a caring tutor who would not let him give up, his mom. Robin had already completed some of the classes her son was now taking and helped him study.

“She would not let me quit,” Chris said. “She is an amazingly strong woman.”

Once he graduates, Chris hopes to work in the healthcare industry as an administrator at a doctor’s office where he can make a difference in the quality of healthcare patients receive. This, he believes, fulfills his calling to help others. His mother looks forward to working as a medical assistant to positively impact the lives of the people for whom she cares.

“It’s not all about books. Learning has to come with a good dose of kindness,” Robin said. “We have gotten that at Florida Technical College.”

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