Tangela A., a 49-year-old consumer at SERV Centers in Middlesex, understands the importance of setting goals for herself. On her path to recovery, she has learned to plan for the future and how, through hard work and perseverance, she could accomplish her dreams.
One of those dreams became a reality recently when she achieved her lifelong goal of graduating from a four-year university. She is the 18th SERV Foundation Scholarship recipient to graduate from a college or university since the program was established in 2004.
Tangela earned a degree in social work and finished her senior year at Rutgers University with an impressive 3.6 GPA. Due to the pandemic, the university held a virtual commencement ceremony. The event took place on May 31 and included words from the university’s president, Robert Barchi, and NBC News anchor Lester Holt. Commencement ceremonies are always memorable affairs, but this was especially impactful for Tangela, who had been working towards a degree while also navigating several challenges in her personal life for nearly a decade.
“It was a great and empowering feeling,” she said, noting that going back to school and completing her degree have significantly helped with her recovery.
News of Tangela’s achievement was met with great enthusiasm among the SERV family. In an email, Andre Caldini, the President of the SERV Foundation, wrote, “I know how hard she worked over the years to earn her degree. The SERV Foundation Board was thrilled to learn that she had earned her bachelor’s degree. This is truly a great accomplishment, and I am very proud of all that she has done."
CEO Regina Widdows echoed Caldini’s sentiments, adding, “This amazing achievement is a testament to Tangela’s hard work and perseverance. She should be seen as a role model to other consumers, and I hope to see many follow in her footsteps.”
Tangela first applied for a SERV Foundation Scholarship in the spring of 2011, after she enrolled at Middlesex Community College (MCC). Since then, she has been awarded tuition assistance a total of 23 times.
In 2016, after completing her associate degree in psychology from MCC, she was accepted to Rutgers University. There, she would pursue a degree in social work.
Why social work? Tangela chose the major because she “felt inspired” by the people who have helped her. “I had an extremely challenging journey to get to where I am today,” she said. “Many of the people who helped me through all the various phases of my recovery were social workers...They have given me so much support.
“I have firsthand experience in how mental health issues can envelop your life and can distort your reality,” she added, “and I want to put those years that I suffered and struggled to good use.
"Ultimately, I want to help others the same way many social workers have helped me.”
Tangela encountered several obstacles throughout her long and often arduous journey in higher education. In particular, she recalls having issues with concentration and anxiety that affected her ability to read, write, and take exams.
Nevertheless, Tangela refused to give up on the goal she set for herself, and when the challenge became too much to bear alone, she asked for help. She sought accommodations from the campus testing center and disability office, and eventually, the school granted her permission to record lectures and take tests without a time limit. She also found a strong support system at SERV.
“There is no way I could have completed my studies without all the help and encouragement I received from SERV,” she said. “SERV staff helped me study. I really struggled with math, but the Residential Program Manager at Plainsboro tutored me. The staff members also helped me with my Spanish, pharmacology, and other subjects that I had a hard time learning…Whenever I ran into an obstacle that I thought was a barrier for me in getting my degree, they happily removed it.
“I believe the SERV staff and SERV Foundation should have their names on my degree because I would not have been able to do it without everyone’s help.”
Since earning her bachelor’s degree, Tangela has wasted no time setting new goals for herself. Her sights are now set on a master’s degree in social work. If all goes as planned, she said, she will graduate within two years.