I’d like to introduce you to two true friends, Luisa and Jackie.

There was once a time Jaclyn Rodriguez Muniz did not know where her next meal would come from; frankly, she was lucky to have one a day. This was when she and her husband lived in Puerto Rico with their new born child, stuck in disabling poverty. Still a minor, she could not speak Spanish and found no school that would take her. “We struggled.” She sighed. “So much.” But where could she go? They didn’t have the luxury of “choice.”

Now back to what felt like a million years before, when Jackie was a freshmen at McCaskey High School in Pennsylvania with Luisa Margarito. They met that year, and clicked right away. Their friendship started at a crucial time in Luisa’s life, for soon she would be pregnant, and it would be as if she was suddenly invisible at school to all but Jackie. Jackie was ever supportive and kind, calling Luisa every day, even after she was on bedrest.

Beyond the support of Jackie, Luisa was blessed during this time to have a supportive mother. But as life would have it, her mother became very sick and was soon unable to take care of Luisa’s baby boy during the day. Luisa felt like her only option was to drop out of school, and was preparing to do so, but her mother would not have it.

Luisa’s mother firmly believed education was of most importance for her daughter. And this is how they ended up at PA Distance. Mrs. Clutter, then Ms. Kline, was both a teacher and a comrade as she struggled to balance taking care of her son, her mom, and her school work.

As Luisa was starting to find some peace in her situation, Jackie’s life was turning upside down. Her mom sent her away from her grandma’s house after an unsafe situation that continued to escalate, and her mother paid her boyfriend’s family to keep her fed. Jackie, now 16, soon found out she was pregnant.

Her mom was able to find her own apartment, so that Jackie could come live with her, but she refused to allow Josmar, Jackie’s boyfriend, into the house unless they were married. So Jackie, at 17, was married to Josmar. She had complications with her pregnancy and had to have an emergency C-section, but she was able to deliver a healthy baby boy.

Soon, however, things took a turn for the worse. Jackie was already struggling with her health and was finding her first cyber school extremely uncompassionate to her situation when her mother announced she was moving back in with Jackie’s grandmother.

This meant Jackie and Josmar would soon be homeless, as her grandmother refused to house them. Unable to find anywhere to live and becoming desperate, Josmar’s family brought them to Puerto Rico to live with them. This, as you know, did not improve their situation.

When in Puerto Rico, Jackie felt trapped in a mounting depression; she had trouble communicating with friends like Luisa. Unable to continue her education, she felt that hope had evaporated in the Puerto Rican heat. She begged and begged her mother to help them get back into the United States. What’s more, before too long, Jackie was pregnant again. But once her mother found this out, she agreed to take them back. They were off to the United States.

Luisa, meanwhile, was wearily making it through her life, taking it day by day. Her time at PA Distance was spent during a period of great frustration, and she admitted these great frustrations to me; but she always encountered hope and kindness from Mrs. Clutter and the others. Motivated by her mom, sister, Jackie, and her son, and spurred on by PA Distance teachers, Luisa was making life lived in the weary day by day count.

So, when Jackie returned, Luisa stood as a stronghold for her. “Woman, call my school!” she told a crying Jackie after a cyber school told her that they didn’t think she could handle their school. Before Jackie knew it, she was talking to PA Distance and had an enrollment application, and not long after that, a computer and printer. “I had hope again,” she told me. But school, like much of her life, would prove to be a roller coaster ride.

“You have two kids, you need to stop school and get a job!” her mom would tell her. “You cannot do it anyway, I don’t know why you even try.” Her marriage struggled, leaving her feeling like she was putting herself ahead of them. Some days she thought she would just drop out, and save herself the trouble; then she would get behind in school, making it all seem more impossible. All this mounted atop a little voice of self-doubt. “I used to cry all the time because I had it in my head that I wasn’t smart,” she confessed.

But the voice of self-doubt wouldn’t win out in Jackie – at least not with Luisa around! “It will be worth it in the end, your kids will be so proud of you!” Luisa would tell her. “You can do it, I believe in you Jackie.” Slowly but surely these words took hold in Jackie’s heart, as her teachers also echoed Luisa’s same hope for Jackie.

Time both dragged and flew for these two, as they managed kids, school, and trials that felt like impossibilities. But finally, they were ready for graduation. Jackie told her teachers she wouldn’t be coming because of gas money. But the staff was unwilling to let that stop her, and pooled some money for her. Her sister let her borrow her shoes and bought her a dress. “Once I went on that stage, I knew my life was going to improve,” she beamed.

Luisa was held up by her mother. Jackie was held up by Luisa. Both were motivated by their kids; both were believed in by their teachers. Today, Jackie is soon starting a nursing program, and Luisa is also planning to start one next year. Jackie now has three boys, and Luisa is expecting her second, a girl, in January. They remain close friends.