In spring 2020, Erika Ajqui-Zapil was poised to graduate from Smith High School with a nursing certification. She planned to go to work in a nursing home while applying to college. Just three days before she was to begin her clinicals to complete that certification, COVID shut down her dreams. “My plan was to get my nursing certification, go to college and also be working in a nursing home so I could be paying for school at the same time.” Classes moved online, clinicals were cancelled, and Erika learned her certification would have to wait.


Zapil was disappointed, but not defeated. She had dreams, dreams she was determined to realize for herself and for her family. Zapil wants to become a midwife. “I love babies,” she says. She remembers time with her mom before her younger brother and sister were born. “She would put her my hand on her belly, and I would feel them moving. I knew that I was going to be the role model for them.” She did not plan to let them down. In June 2020, despite the setbacks due to the pandemic, Erika became the first in her family to graduate high school.


In the fall she enrolled at GTCC, and she faced new challenges. “I kept thinking, ‘How am I going to pay for my classes? How am I going to pay for my books?’” She had registered for the Say Yes Guilford scholarship, but didn’t realize how valuable it would be. “That helped me a lot. Seeing that I had money available from Say Yes, I thought ‘I’ve got this now.’”


Erika is about to finish her first year of college, and she’s already been accepted into GTCC’s nursing program. She hopes to graduate with an associate’s degree in nursing in 2023. Her parents couldn’t be prouder, and her younger siblings are watching her every move, hanging on every piece of advice. “Keep working,” she tells them. “Keep pushing and keep grinding; that hard work will pay off.”