Traverse City Record-Eagle

Business

May 18, 2014

Advisor helps turn around fortunes of high school dropout

TRAVERSE CITY — Tiffany Brooks knows she’s lucky to be here.

Just a few years ago her life spun out of control. Alcohol and drugs consumed the high school dropout and prompted a failed suicide attempt at age 17.

“There’s always people out there who have it worse than the other person, but I struggled,” said Brooks, now 20.

Today, Brooks’ life is far different. She’s sober, holds down a steady job and enrolled in college at Northwestern Michigan College for the fall semester. Brooks said she turned her life around with the help of Dana Venhuizen, a youth advisor for Northwest Michigan Works.

The program offers assistance to job seekers in 10 northern Michigan counties, but for Brooks it offered much more.

“If it weren’t for Dana, I’d be dead,” Brooks said. “One hundred percent sure. I wouldn’t have my driver’s license. I wouldn’t have gone back to school or gotten my GED. If I wouldn’t have had Dana, there’d have been nothing for me.”

Brooks dropped out of Kingsley High School at 16, despite support from her mom and dad. She left home, couch-surfed and used drugs and alcohol. She connected with Michigan Works through a brief stint at Traverse City High School.

“She came in with her dad and mom and met with me about enrolling in Beaver Island’s residential alternative program, and she got up and walked out of the meeting,” Venhuizen said. “She did not want any part of it.”

Brooks eventually did go to Beaver Island -- a highly structured environment where youth can obtain high school credits. But she was kicked out of the program.

“It’s like a last chance school pretty much,” Brooks said. “It’s very secluded, you have to stay on campus, and it’s pretty strict. My anger and my emotions got the best of me.

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