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By Stephanie Viguers

Seated in a chair lined up outside of the Financial Aid office at the CCC Blackwood campus is a two year old boy with partial chewed up goldfish snacks on the front of his monster truck t-shirt.  He is sitting patiently for the moment, smiling up at his mom who shares her tired smile back after a long yawn.  “Don’t let him fool you, he can be a handful”, responds Nicole Matteo, concerning her two year son, Collin.  Matteo is a 24 year old single mom from Blackwood trying to find a way to afford enrolling herself back into Camden County to achieve her Associates Degree in Social Work.  “Going to school full time and work full time and being a mom full time, you run out of hours in the day to get everything done”, says Matteo, “…but it will be worth it in the long run”.

Pregnancy caught Matteo off guard almost three years ago.  Her boyfriend, who was in the military, just left the country for Iraq.  Matteo, 21 years old at the time, took three pregnancy tests, all resulting in a double pink line, and she cried with her mom the entire night.  “….and that was only the beginning…” replies Matteo.  Shortly after Matteo’s boyfriend learned she was expecting with his child, their relationship ended.  Matteo was now an expecting single mother.  While pregnant, Matteo had lost her grandfather and father in the same week.  “Life was turned upside down….I didn’t feel like myself…so much was taken from me, I was depressed”, says Matteo.

“The stress was too much, I felt like I didn’t have a choice”, replies Matteo after stating she had dropped out of school and quit her job.  Matteo’s mom took care of her financially, and her closest friends took care of her emotionally.  After her son was born, Matteo knew she had to put her life back together.  Her first step was Matteo got her old job back at Wendy’s as a shift manager.   “I worked nights so I could take care of my son during the day….and I was lucky enough to have my mom watch him at night” says Matteo.  With a full schedule, school couldn’t fit into Matteo’s schedule for the first two years of her son’s life.

Now that Matteo has saved up enough money away to enroll her son in daycare, she finally has an option to go back to school.  “With the right services I can receive practically free daycare, so now I just have to see what Financial Aid can do for me”, says Matteo.  “I can’t move up in the world without school, and Wendy’s barely pays for a decent lifestyle let alone Little League for my son”, Matteo states and lets out a sigh.  She pauses for a moment to wipe her son’s face from his snack.  Matteo continues, “Hopefully I will have a good job by the time Collin turns 10.  It will take a long time to finish school with everything.  School is the best investment”.

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