Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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August 30, 2013

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Nearly 200 adults enrolled in the new Kokomo Excel Center

Tiffany Vega-Mendoza stood outside a makeshift classroom Thursday and told stories about a childhood mired in poverty.

She said her family of four lived in a tiny efficiency apartment. She can remember days when she and her two siblings would eat pancakes or rice for every meal because her mom couldn’t afford anything else.

Vega-Mendoza dreamed of something better for herself. She wanted to go to college and become an accountant. She is great at math, she said.

“But I kind of messed up when I was 16,” she said. “I got pregnant.”

Her mom couldn’t afford to take care of another child, so Vega-Mendoza was forced to drop out of school and find a job.

Now, the Kokomo woman is married and has six kids.

Her husband works 16 hours a day, but they still can’t afford to move out of the government-subsidized apartment they live in.

It’s no place to raise a family, she said. Her kids often find needles on the ground on their way to the bus stop.

“I want my children to have more than I ever had in my life,” she said. “Me and my husband, we want a house in the country.”

Vega-Mendoza said the Excel Center is her ticket to a better life.

Excel Center Kokomo opened for classes this week. The charter school run by Goodwill Education Initiatives helps adults get their high school diploma.

Right now, 174 local adults are enrolled. There is space for another 144.

On Thursday morning, teachers interacted with a group of students inside a makeshift classroom in the United Way of Howard County offices.

The teachers announced a special project for the students to work on until they move to their permanent home.

The Excel Center building at 101 W. Superior St. was set to open last week, but school officials hit a snag.

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