“The Visions Unlimited program at Tarrant County College completely changed my life.”
That’s what Gregory Burnette wants people to know about the transformative program at TCC South. Four years ago, the 59-year-old was living in his car under a bridge near Interstate 35. When he tried to starve himself to death, a Good Samaritan saw his vehicle and called 911 for help. After being saved, Burnette decided to make some changes.
That’s when he moved to a Union Gospel Mission of Tarrant County shelter, which is where he learned about Visions Unlimited—a program at TCC South that works with local homeless shelters to help men and women transition to self-sufficiency and higher education.
“The program is a great idea to help the homeless population become members of society again,” said Burnette. After learning more about how TCC could increase his economic mobility, he decided to enroll in the Visions Unlimited program during the fall 2018 semester.
“The Visions Unlimited program gave me the opportunity to get back into college and it prepared me for how to manage my future career,” said Burnette. He benefited from two psychology classes that anchored the program, both of which are designed to provide students critical help during their time at TCC. The first class allows students to examine their personal development and learn more about themselves. In the second class, students focus on career pathways and long-term goals.
The avid reader was a strong student at TCC, finishing with a 3.6 GPA and earning an associate degree in May 2021. Despite his strong GPA, Burnette’s experience at TCC was upended when the community college had to shift to remote learning in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“TCC professors were very patient and helpful during the transition to online classes,” he said. “They were prompt in responding to my questions and adjusted to the new style of teaching due to the pandemic.”
When COVID-19 hit, Burnette was living at the New Life Center, a men’s residential facility managed by Cornerstone Assistance Network, a faith-based organization in Fort Worth. The facility houses several men dealing with housing insecurity, some of whom have graduated from TCC. Over the past three years, five residents have graduated from TCC, with two earning graduate degrees.
After a 30-year career at IBM, the former senior printer technician was ready for a new career and TCC was going to help him get there, according to Burnette. The sudden change to remote learning presented a new challenge, however. Burnette, along with other housemates enrolled in the Vision Unlimited program, had to deal with limited internet access at New Life Center, which almost derailed his dream of earning an associate degree. Thankfully, he was able to connect with supportive professors and staff members at every turn.
Without the support of Tina Jenkins, professor of psychology and coordinator of the Visions Unlimited program at TCC South, and Jolynn Sprole, director of financial aid at TCC South, Burnette is not sure he would have finished his degree at TCC or been prepared to successfully complete his four-year degree at Texas Wesleyan University.
“Dr. Jenkins monitored my progress to ensure I had everything I needed to succeed at TCC,” he explained. “Ms. Sprole guided me through the FAFSA process to make sure I had enough financial aid to continue at Texas Wesleyan. She also called the finance director at Texas Wesleyan to get them to honor a previous agreement for TCC students transferring into the university, which allowed me to be able to afford Texas Wesleyan with the scholarship.”
After Burnette graduates from Texas Wesleyan with a degree in psychology, he hopes to give back to the community by helping people who are going through what he’s been able to overcome.
“God will put me where I can serve him best,” he shared.
TCC continues to be committed to serving every student who walks through its doors, regardless of income status. Since 2007, hundreds of students dealing with homelessness have participated in the Visions Unlimited program. As program coordinator, Jenkins gets the opportunity to watch the Visions Unlimited students experience growth and achieve different levels of success.
“Of course, we love to see high GPAs, but we have seen students reunite with their loved ones, obtain employment and build self-esteem, self-confidence and communication skills,” said Jenkins. “They’ve already been able to improve their mental and physical health, plus obtain housing and financial stability.”
Over the past 18 months or so, nearly 10 Visions Unlimited students have earned an associate degree or certificate from TCC. What really makes Jenkins proud is hearing news about TCC alumni going on to earn graduate degrees in various disciplines.
One alumnae, John Smith ’16, earned a Master of Science in Geographic Information Science and Technology from the University of Southern California in 2020. The self-proclaimed “data nerd” performed so well academically that his graduate advisor provided a recommendation for a doctoral program at MIT.
After graduating from TCC, Heather Zipper went on to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work from the University of Texas of Arlington. She’s currently working full-time at a MHMR (My Health My Resources) of Tarrant County location. Before joining MHMR, Zipper worked part-time at TCC, helping students as an academic advisor.
There is no greater intrinsic reward than when we see our Visions Unlimited students graduate. To play a small part in transformational learning and permanent positive change in the lives of our students is truly a blessing.
Professor of Psychology and
Coordinator of Visions Unlimited program
Since its inception, the Visions Unlimited program has worked with internal and external partners to help this vulnerable population, which was what former Chancellor Erma Hadley desired for the program.
“I’m sure the late Mrs. Hadley is smiling,” said Jenkins. “She always said we must never forget about the students that need us the most. Today, we are very fortunate to have the support of Chancellor Eugene Giovannini. His empathy, compassion and steadfast student-centered leadership sets an exemplary community stewardship standard for TCC employees.”
In addition to the support from Chancellor Giovannini and the rest of the TCC community, the Visions Unlimited program enjoys strong partnerships with various community organizations and corporations throughout the region.
“Our community and corporate partners play integral roles with filling in gaps of unmet needs,” Jenkins explained. “We rely heavily on community partners such as Cornerstone Assistance Network, Union Gospel Mission, Salvation Army, Presbyterian Night Shelter and True Worth Place. We have partnered with faith-based entities such as St. Paul United Methodist Church and have received annual donations for more than 10 years from them. Additionally, we have received past grants from First Presbyterian Church and MHMR.”
The partnership between Cornerstone Assistance Network and TCC has grown in recent years. Philip Posey, director of housing for Cornerstone Assistance Network, believes the alliance will play an important role in more residents achieving their academic goals.
“Until four years ago, I had other case managers running the program that didn’t have the vision for this program that I had,” Posey shared. “I began to establish a relationship with Dr. Jenkins, who has the same passion for these men that I do. I also began to connect with Union Gospel Mission. With these three programs coordinating our efforts, we have created a pathway of success for homeless men who have a desire to succeed.”
A generous corporate donation from Amerigroup has greatly enhanced TCC South’s programmatic offerings over the last few years. By adding in the individual contributions to the Visions Unlimited Scholarship, all the financial and community resources help to address critical student needs such as tuition and school supplies.
“I can truly say this type of support has kept the program going,” explained Jenkins. “While we have wisely utilized the funding over the last few years, additional financial resources are needed to help the program to thrive and meet emerging needs. TCC certainly does not want the program to shrink under the pressure of limited financial resources.”
Alumnae Kevin Brooks ’20 was awarded the Visions Unlimited Scholarship, which provided full tuition for one academic year to a student who had accomplished academic and personal milestones. Brooks earned an associate degree in cybersecurity from TCC and transferred to Tarleton State University. Ultimately, Brooks would like to earn his master’s degree in cybersecurity and then start teaching at the college level.
For an individual or organization interested in supporting the Visions Unlimited Program or scholarship, contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on how to contribute.
Learn more about the empowering work being done by TCC’s Visions Unlimited program.