Once homeless and moving in and out of cardboard boxes, shelters and Section 8 housing with her family, Romona “Mona” Dixon now is a college freshman at ASU living in the Honors College dorm and setting her sights on a doctorate.
Earlier this month, Dixon was named the 2010 Boys & Girls Club National Youth of the Year. She reached that milestone after being nominated by staff at the Tempe Boys & Girls Club Ladmo Branch and making her way through state, regional and national competitions.
It took her to Washington, D.C., where a visit to the Lincoln Memorial awed her and President Barack Obama shook her hand.
But the best part of her trip, she said, was meeting four other teens just like her.
“The best experience in D.C. was getting to meet those friends, the other candidates. To know it could be worse or to know I’m not the only person who goes through things like that and has to go through obstacles,” she said.
With more than $100,000 in scholarships from the competition and supporters, including $87,000 for her national title, Dixon entered Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business in August with the idea of one day becoming a purchasing manager.
Dixon started attending the Boys & Girls Club when she was 13.
“Ten years ago, I was 7. We were probably still homeless, moving from street to shelter. The reason we were on the streets was because shelters were full. That’s why a cardboard box was usually our home,” she said.
“Around the time I turned 10 we moved to Tempe. When I was 13, I started going to the Boys & Girls Club. From there, my life changed.”
College representatives came to the club to help students with resumes and college applications. Teachers encouraged her to attend college, helping to fuel her dream. She graduated third in her class from Tempe High School in the spring.
The staff at the Boys & Girls Club also taught Dixon that it’s OK “to ask for help if I need it.”
“I don’t go through not knowing something and expecting I’ll do it right,” she said.
Even now the staff still mentors Dixon. She leans on the them to learn how to juggle her full load of classes and what to expect during college. Some of the staff members are ASU students, she said, so they clue her into what professors require on papers and assignments.
She also hopes her future includes internships.
“I want to see what kinds of things I like and from there see what I can choose” for the future, she said.
Dixon was recently named the honorary grand marshal for the Fiesta Bowl parade. Her experiences can be followed on her Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/monasjourney