Brandy Greenwood really hasn’t stopped working in recent years, despite not having a paying job or a high school diploma.
“I quit going to school in the 11th grade because I got pregnant with my two oldest kids,” Greenwood said. “I was in the band and ROTC in high school, so I wasn’t ever weak in any subjects. I tried five times to pass the GED, but life got in the way.”
Greenwood, a Shreveport, La., native, moved to Mississippi in 1999 as a 20-year-old single mother when her own mother’s job moved to Jackson. A decade of transience reached an apparent low point when she moved into a shelter for homeless women in Vicksburg with her four children. She lived in the shelter a year and a half, eventually doing odd jobs for the facility’s operators.
“I was a house monitor, the cook, the driver, did all kinds of errands,” she said. Once she moved into more permanent housing in 2013, her thoughts shifted to bettering her station in life. “I needed to get myself together and find something to do. When I was at the shelter, I did so many things, including cooking.”
Another go-round this past year at securing a high school diploma through Hinds Community College was a payoff, thanks to a handful of people who work with students in the enhanced adult education program to handle issues of transportation, child care, financial aid and more.
“Ms. Lauren Powers said someone suggested me for the MI-BEST program after I took a test to enter the GED program to see how much I remembered. When I asked what trades I could take, she said culinary was one of them. I said, ‘I’m in there! I’ll take it.’”
MI-BEST is Mississippi’s version of the nationally recognized Integrating Basic Education and Skills Training program, or I-BEST. It allows adult students to train for a job skill while earning their GED high school equivalency certificate at the same time. Students are prepared to be job-ready in six months to a year, train in high-demand areas and earn national certifications.
“Brandy has really overcome a lot of adversity throughout her life,” said Powers, who works as a navigator in the program that helps students with things such as transportation, child care and financial aid. That way, the students keep their total focus on academics. “The MI-BEST program at Hinds CC in Vicksburg was the perfect program to help get the ball moving in the right direction for Brandy. Part of my role as the MI-BEST navigator is to provide a wraparound of student services from support, guidance and counseling in both academics as well as with everyday life to serving as a listening board and being a cheerleader for the students.
“She is dedicated and motivated to reaching her goals, and I couldn’t be more proud of her efforts in the MI-BEST program. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for her – I just know it is going to be bright!”
Greenwood began classes in June and passed all tests on the first try. Now she attends classes twice a week, nine hours a day. In her culinary classes, she has learned the finer points of slicing cheese and proper techniques of cutting fruit. Of her core academic classes, math remains “a challenge.” She hopes to take the GED test by the end of November.
“It’s been 20 years since I’ve been in school, and for me to be doing this well I know this is my year,” she said. “It’s time for me to do my part. I’ll be the first child of my mother to walk in a cap and gown.”
“It’s helped me find myself,” she said. “I have the strength, courage and knowledge to do what I have to do. I’m challenged every day in class for something, whether it’s in Mr. (Tim) DeRossette’s class or in math class. I hope this shows my children that you’re never too old to finish school.”
And she’s also thinking big beyond her long-awaited graduation. She wants to draw upon a cooking heritage to bring the dining world’s hottest trend to Vicksburg.
“Cooking is a dream of mine,” she said. “My mom and my grandmother, who is a retired school cafeteria worker, were my mentors. My mother worked for a bank for 45 years, then got her cake decoration license, so she can decorate pastries and things like that.”
“Most definitely, I’d want to do a food truck because we don’t have one here in Vicksburg,” she said. “I know I want it to be good food, but healthy and not always fried.”
Her husband, Randy, laid flooring for a living for 15 years, but is now disabled. Still, Brandy feels she already has her future business partner right there in the kitchen.
“We make this coconut chicken that is awesome,” she said. “He’d make a good sous chef for me.”