After a childhood of homelessness, abuse and teen pregnancy, Shanita Lawrence found herself incarcerated at age 18 and separated from her young son. “I wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for the obstacles I’ve overcome, good and bad,” Shanita observed.
She was honored on November 21 with a Transformation Award from MOSES, an organization working to end mass incarceration and to celebrate the accomplishments of formerly incarcerated men and women.
Joining the UW Odyssey Project Class of 2009 played a pivotal role in Shanita’s journey. “Odyssey was the first time I felt part of something great, and it taught me to dig deeper within myself. Odyssey helped me be able to express myself and gave me the confidence that my voice could be heard.” After Odyssey, Shanita earned both associate and bachelor’s degrees while raising a family. She now works as a resource specialist and shelter case manager, empowering families to overcome challenges like those she once faced.
“Odyssey is a community of learning unlike any other. The bonds you build with your classmates and professors are lifelong. Never have I been more excited to come to class. Odyssey doesn’t end when the classes are over; we are a family and remain connected forever.” Shanita’s two children also received enrichment and a sense of belonging through Odyssey Junior.
The photo above shows Shanita (right) with two fellow Odyssey alumni at an Odyssey Junior holiday party during pre-pandemic times. Antoinetta (center) is pursuing her associate degree at Madison College, while her son completes eighth grade online. “He dreams of being an engineer, thanks to Odyssey Junior building his confidence and sending him to summer camps.” Dominique (left) will finish her UW master of social work degree this May and hopes, like Shanita, to assist families now struggling with challenges she experienced firsthand. We celebrate Shanita for her Transformation Award and the hundreds of other Odyssey alumni undergoing truly transformational journeys.