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Going back to school can be overwhelming, especially if you have competing priorities like family, work and desire to serve in the community. Tonya Badillo ’06 knows this well. As the creator and director of Team Jump Off, a non-profit that benefits Long Branch youth, Tonya and her husband opened their home to 25 young adults each week, providing mentoring, after school activities, snacks and field trips to help keep them motivated and focused on their futures.
Tonya was encouraged to create the non-profit after she saw her own son hanging out with a “tough crowd”. As a busy mother of four boys, Tonya was worried about the potential of gang activity in her neighborhood and family. She knew that something had to be done; creating a safe place for young people to play ball, talk and learn became essential. She ran this organization full time while watching over her boys, working towards her associate’s degree at Penn Foster and working part-time at the Long Branch Public Library.
Growing up, Tonya always felt comfortable and safe in the library and, in all earnestness, she applied for the part-time position at Long Branch as a way to get out of the house for a bit. It wasn’t long before the Long Branch library director recognized Tonya’s dedication to serving the community, and encouraged her to apply for the Institute of Museum and Library Services Laura Bush 21st Century Scholarship.
Since family responsibilities and community were her top priorities, and the high cost of college education was a huge consideration, completing her bachelor’s degree wasn’t even on her radar. With the support of her family and community, Tonya applied and was one of only ten individuals to receive the Institute of Museum and Library Services Laura Bush 21st Century Scholarship.
The scholarship gave Tonya the opportunity to work towards her bachelor’s degree at Thomas Edison State University. The flexibility of the courses at TESU, along with the strong support of her academic advisor and the reinforcement of her family, helped her through the more difficult periods of her education.
Tonya recalls sitting at the kitchen table in tears because she wasn’t sure if she could finish her school assignments, work, sleep and most importantly be a mom to her four boys. Her husband stepped in and worked with her scheduling. He made sure Tonya had quiet time each day and took the boys out to movies when he knew she needed to finish an assignment.
“Thomas Edison State University changed the course of my family’s life,” she recalled, as she describes life after finishing her degree. Within a week of completing her bachelor’s degree, Tonya was promoted to Diversity and Literacy Manager at the Long Branch Public Library. As the first in her family to complete her bachelor’s degree, she stood as an inspiration to those around her. Her husband has since finished his associate’s degree and is working on his bachelor’s degree, and their two eldest sons are currently enrolled in college.
Tonya’s dedication to advancing her degree has helped her family and community immensely. After completing her bachelor’s degree at Thomas Edison State University she went on to pursue her master’s degree at Rutgers and is currently the Assistant Director at the Long Branch Public Library.