Women in Tech Student Feature | Sara Yarbrough

We are grateful to have met Sara Yarbrough. A reminder of how deeply the work at Per Scholas matters, she is an inspiration to anyone, no matter their walk of life. Sara graduated February 13 with the current all-women’s class and she is our student of the month. “Sara is my greatest achievement,” Jose Jurado, the class’ Career Development instructor says with emotion in his eyes. “A night and day difference from when she came here 15 weeks ago. The most improved student ever, by far.”

Sara came to New York City at the age of 18 from Honduras to fulfill the American Dream, to be something, be more. She had fire in her belly to achieve great things but like many who move to New York with the big dream, a bumpy road is often what greets us. “I was working retail and so unfulfilled. I snapped out of it one day and said, ‘Sara, you are not here to do retail. You came to be somebody.’” Who would have thought the Persian Gulf War would inspire her next move?

In 1991 she joined the United States Army. She met her future husband, got married, and started a family which now includes two children she adores. She later completed her bachelor’s degree and continued with the Army. In 2004 she was shipped out for an 18 month tour in Iraq. Her job? Human Intelligence Collector (also known as an interrogator). A heavy, taxing job for a wife and mother to two, we have no doubt. She finished her service and returned to civilian life.

“Readjusting was hard. I had lost my rhythm, I couldn’t just return to my life,” she pauses, and with noticeable hesitation adds, “I had to go through post-traumatic stress treatment, to therapy.” Her marriage also crumbled after she returned from active duty and ended shortly after. And it was not just because Sara was going through a hard time. She shared, with difficulty, she had been in an abusive relationship. “He never physically hit me, it wasn’t physical, but I swear, the emotional abuse I think is just as bad. He would tell me I was a good for nothing, a piece of (expletive removed). He would spit in my face. And that was all I heard, so I believed it,” she pauses, “If I did not have children, I would not be alive.”

Since her return from active duty in 2005, and while raising her children as a single mother following her divorce, Sara has been battling a deep and all-consuming depression. “I have tried for seven years to get my life back on track. I tried going back to school for my master’s and just lost myself. I was drowning, face down in water — and it wasn’t until I found Per Scholas that I was ever brought up for air.”

Through the Veterans Affairs center she found Per Scholas late last year. She put all her hope and energy into believing that Per Scholas was going to be the turning point in her life. “I was not going to quit, I was not going to fail. I couldn’t because my daughter and son deserve to see that I am a success story so they don’t repeat what happened to me.”

In her first few weeks at Per Scholas, Sara could not get through the day (or even the morning) without breaking into tears. The years of emotional abuse and the scars from fighting in a war had settled deeply into her core. The training staff responded, giving Sara the support she needed to break this cycle for good.

“Mr. Jurado gave me a book called Your Erroneous Zones when he saw the state I was in — after I had broken down crying to him for the, I don’t know, tenth time in a row,” she laughs now. “He would tell me over and over again that I had to stop listening to that negative voice in me and break it down.” She speaks triumphantly, “This would not have worked anywhere else. Nowhere else provided the support, the caring, the safe environment to get me out of this place. Per Scholas is my rebirth.”

Sara’s IT Instructor, Maureen Monaghan, threw as much work at Sara as she could take. The need to be busy and remain focused and never slow down was key to Sara’s progress. She would stay late until the school closed, and Ms. Monaghan would stick around until then, too.

The dress code at Per Scholas forced Sara to retire the uniform she had been wearing for seven years: jeans and a t-shirt. At Per Scholas, professional attire is required — our students have to treat class like they are coming into work. “I was so uncomfortable the first several days wearing these clothes. I felt people were looking at me. And the truth is they were looking at me, so I realized I had to change and play this role and act how I was dressed because, in reality, I am being evaluated. So I changed.”

Being in an all-women’s class contributed to her transformation as well, she says. From her long past in the military, Sara was always “hanging with the boys” and always felt drawn to and more comfortable in that environment. Here, among women, she was forced to evaluate herself and evaluate other women. “When I saw something in another classmate that I didn’t like, I realized for the first time — I didn’t like it because it was a reflection of me, it was a shortcoming of mine. And we were here to change that. Women are so strong and we never give ourselves the credit.”

How someone can break a seven year cycle of depression in 15 weeks is still astounding to us. But the transformation is undeniable. Sara is already A+ certified prior to her graduation, in final interviews with a handful of prospective employers, and she is finishing what she started for the first time in years.

“I have not seen this Sara in so long and it is so good to see her again. I am back to the strong person I came [to New York City] being. I have found myself again and I say to the world, ‘Try and stop me now.’”

UPDATE: Sara Yarbrough was hired by the New York Stock Exchange’s U.S. Veteran Associate Program and began her role on June 3, 2013. She will be providing telecomm support on the infamous trading floor. This is the first time the company has hired a Per Scholas graduate. Sara is making history — for Per Scholas and, most importantly, herself. We could not be more excited.

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