For 12 years, Clarissa Ament had no actual place to call home. Little did she know, one day she'd be on the verge of completing a Saint Leo MBA degree program.
Ament, 48, originally hails from the small town of Alstead, N.H. She and her family now reside in Gainesville, Fla. She and her husband, Keith, have three children – Nikolas (named after Nikki Six from Motley Crew), Chasonne and Dainaira.
Finding Inner Strength During Adversity
Ament and her husband went through a lengthy period in their lives in which they had no permanent residence.
"I went thru a lot of struggles and inner-turmoil because of bad decisions I made," she admits.
Based on her experience, there is a certain mindset many homeless individuals adopt the longer they are in this situation.
"When you become homeless, you kind of get comfortable and move away from society. It takes a long time and lots of bravery to integrate back into society."
Tents, sidewalks and parks were just a few of the spots where the couple would sleep at night.
"We did have an area we could return to at times, but we got moved a lot," she explains. "I lost everything eight different times over those 12 years. One time when a hurricane came through, it washed away everything."
She learned countless life lessons during this timeframe of her life.
"You learn how to be resourceful. You also learn to be humble, have humility and to be thankful. When you hit rock bottom and then come up from it, you look back and tell yourself that things are okay. I can honestly say that I am stronger and braver today than I have ever been in my life."
Once she found her footing again, she took one big step that she had only imagined taking one day.
"One of the first things I did was apply to college," she says. "I remember while I was homeless, I used to dream about going to college, getting a degree and having a successful career."
Aspiring to Higher Education
Ament is a perfect example of why it's never too late to pursue a college education. And it doesn't matter what someone has endured in the past.
Starting her undergraduate studies at age 41, Ament attended Santa Fe College in Gainesville. She earned her bachelor's in organizational management with a human resource management concentration.
It was a professor she had at Santa Fe College, Stephen Hess, who was also teaching for Saint Leo through whom she found out about the university.
"It was Professor Hess and some other recruiters who came to the college to tell us about everything Saint Leo offered," she recalls.
She says all of her instructors have been wonderful in so many ways.
"They really have all been great," she says. "It's hard to pick only one of them out because they've all been so helpful."
The size of her classes has been a huge perk in terms of helping her learn more effectively, she adds.
"When I came to Saint Leo, I liked the small classes," she says. "You get a lot more insight from your instructors, and you can learn a lot about your classmates and what they're doing in their lives and careers. Plus, the Gainesville Education Center is very family-oriented. Everyone is so kind and cares about you as a student. You really start feeling like you know everyone and can find support through others."
Saint Leo University's Core Values
For many years, Saint Leo University has prided itself on several core values. Ament notes that each has been woven into the fabric of every class she has taken at the university.
"In each of my classes, we stop and reflect on a specific core value during the term. Sometimes we even have assignments to do based on these core values. Responsible stewardship has been the one that's had the most impact on me. I have realized how important it is to be responsible in order to keep our planet as safe and clean as possible for future generations."
Ament currently holds a part-time job with Alachua Habitat for Humanity in Gainesville. For nearly three years, she has worked as an assistant business manager.
"I do a little bit of everything - HR work, onboarding, handle personnel issues, bookkeeping and payroll. We're a small team but have a fantastic group of people."
In her view, Saint Leo's MBA program has helped her in several specific ways in her job.
"I think having been in small classes was a huge help in terms of learning practical concepts," she says.
A Passion for Felines
The family has always had a soft spot for cats. They currently house 14 of them but look after even more.
"My husband and I absolutely love cats," she says. "We originally started with three and then had a neighbor whose outdoor cat we were feeding. There was also a very pregnant cat we took in who had four kittens. We now have 30 cats who we feed twice a day."
They now work closely with Operation Catnip, an organization whose mission is to sterilize and vaccinate feral cats to reduce their homelessness. She says she'd love to start a nonprofit for cats someday.
She adds that having been homeless herself, she can closely relate to cats who don't have a permanent home.
"Society is not that accepting to take you back in. You can feel really awkward around others. Sometimes I feel like I'm the odd man out."