Breaking Barriers

An MLH Scholar and United Way intern shares the blueprint to overcoming challenges.

Nephtalie Dorceus learned several important lessons at the Lynn YMCA, while working as camp counselor with children with disabilities. She realized that you can’t take yourself too seriously; that you need to be patient; and, sometimes, all a person needs is a little push.

“People unfamiliar with people with disabilities might automatically think that they can’t do this or can’t do that,” she says. “Really, it just takes an extra step. Anything is possible.”

She understands. As an immigrant from Haiti, who arrived with her family, she is all-too-familiar with challenges–and how focus and determination can lead to true opportunity. When she came to the United States, Nephtalie didn’t speak a word of English. She and her siblings learned the language together (her sister came up with a song to help remember their phone number). It took time. It wasn’t easy.

“The culture change was the biggest challenge for us,” she says. “Dealing with that gave me a thick skin.”

Though she eventually broke through the language barrier, Nepthalie found increasing challenges in her burgeoning academic experience. But whenever she felt weighed down by any struggles, she looked to her family, particularly her mother, in whom she saw someone to model her life after.

“My mother went through so much so trouble so I could have a better future,” she says. “That always gave me the extra drive, the extra push to succeed.”

The push worked. Nepthalie is a Marian L. Heard United Way scholar, which grants a four-year scholarship and access to a volunteer e-coach. She’s also a summer intern at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, working in volunteer engagement. And when the fall starts, she’ll return to Springfield College, where she majors in health science, with a concentration on Occupational Therapy and designs to work with autistic children once she graduates.

“People said that I couldn’t make it,” she says. “But with support and hard work, you can achieve anything you want.”