Van Fryman attended 15 different schools before graduating from high school. “I grew up moving around the U.S. with my family,” he says. “My mom and dad were divorced. My dad was in the military, my mom was a gypsy.” He went to a new school practically every year.

“I finally stopped moving around when I entered high school. My dad got back from Afghanistan and we moved with him to El Paso, Texas.” He met his future wife in physics class during his junior year. “I asked her out in the last week of school—[I’d] never talked to her before that. I proposed to her in the fall, when we were seniors, and the next year we got married.”

In 2015, soon after he and his wife celebrated the birth of their son, he lost his job. His father was living in New Hampshire at the time, and told Van to bring his family north. He had a place where they could live, he said, and a job for Van. “It was five nights a week, me and my dad would leave our house at 11, [and drive] all the way to Lyndonville, Vermont and pick up trash in an F350 cage-body truck…so just stacking trash bags like 10-15 feet high and stomping them down and doing it over and over for a whole year.” His wife wasn’t used to the harsh Northern winter. His daughter was born prematurely the following spring. Life in New England was far from what they’d hoped for.

Two years later, after a tumultuous start to his daughter’s life, Van and his family moved to Hyde Park. He had a job at the Morrisville Rent-A-Center. He and his wife talked about wanting to go to college—he knew that a degree would mean more opportunity. He met with Billi Dunham, a coordinator of academic services at CCV’s Morrisville academic center. “They said it was super affordable, and they would give me this free Level Up class.” Level Up, he learned, is a program at CCV-Morrisville that provides a free class and special support and incentives for young men in Lamoille County. He enrolled in the spring of 2017.

“It gave me more perspective, I think, and it helped me form a basis of community,” says Van of the Level Up class. Participants develop close bonds, and they tend to stick together. “This year’s been a big huge leap in a who-I-really-am type of thing. So I started doing things with Level Up a lot more…it’s awesome that you can do that here,” says Van. The Level Up group installed a community garden at the CCV-Morrisville center. They get together for barbecues, they design floats and march in local parades. Van says he plans to mentor new students in the class this fall.

Today, Van is nearly halfway to his associate degree in STEM studies. He works for a local painting company. He’s looking forward to becoming even more involved in his community. “This past semester was the biggest change in my life due to the classes CCV provided for me,” he says. His Effective Leadership and Conflict Resolution classes helped to shape the way he thinks about engaging with others. This spring, he and the Level Up group worked with the Town of Morrisville and RiseVT to write a grant for, plan, and host a Health and Wellness day for the Morrisville community. Nearly 200 people attended.

Van has a lot on his plate. He says he and his wife are aware—sometimes painfully so—of how their lives differ from those of their peers. “We’re puzzled by people our age, because we haven’t seen anybody else our age like us,” he says. “I’m 23, she’s 22. We have two kids, we both have full-time jobs, and I’m going to school, and it’s crazy.” That’s why Level Up, as well as the larger community at CCV-Morrisville, has been so important. Not only has he had the chance to build camaraderie with his classmates—despite the different circumstances of their personal lives—but he’s had nothing but support since he first signed up for classes. “The atmosphere I got from here all of a sudden was like, ‘we want you to come here, and do good, and do it, and you let me know if you need help,’ so never once did I feel like I couldn’t get assistance or do it. This place is reaching a hand out saying, ‘we can help you do it.’”

In Level Up, Van says, “there is guaranteed respect, because that’s just who we are.” He says the class, and the various projects he’s worked on since, have helped him develop empathy, perspective, and a deep sense of community. “Seeing other people’s points of view really helps you understand each other, and helps you grow and solve the task at hand.”

Despite the current craziness of balancing marriage, parenthood, full-time work, and school, Van is determined to complete his college degree. “I’m trying to create an easier life for my family, so that they have a more convenient way to getting started in life, and their children’s life, than I did…Anything I do now is to get enough money to be able to make my children’s life, and my family’s life, better.”

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