New York Times Neediest Cases

Finding Help to Take Her Next Steps

Moving beyond challenges at home, this New Yorker sought assistance to reach her goals.


Denisha Smith found a job out of state. Then she needed help to move.Credit...Andrew Mangum for The New York Times

By Alex Lemonides, The New York Times 

When Denisha Smith left her Brooklyn home at 14, she had nowhere to go. “Don’t even ask me where I was going,” Ms. Smith, 26, said in a recent interview. “I had no plans.”

A good night was spent with a friend’s family. A bad night was spent in a subway car. After a couple of years of bouncing from place to place, Ms. Smith met a social worker who helped her get into foster care. While the system gave Ms. Smith a place to live, it also brought its own challenges.

Her love of school, though, was one constant. “I used to actually pray for homework,” she recalled. “And I have to admit that I was kind of a teacher’s pet.”

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Along the way, Ms. Smith’s social worker supported her as she graduated from high school, enrolled in Baruch College, where she majored in business, and worked part-time as a teacher’s assistant at Public School 59 in Beekman Hill in Manhattan.

The work as a teachers assistant shifted Ms. Smith’s ambitions from a career in business to one in education after she met a teacher who inspired her.

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“She was such a hard worker. She always went above and beyond, and I am just like that,” Ms. Smith said. “I just wanted to be just like her.” After graduating from Baruch, Ms. Smith enrolled in Hunter College to earn a master’s in education.

Ms. Smith completed her master’s degree in January, and was eager to begin teaching in New York City. She was excited to have her own classroom, walk the halls with her own keys and get creative with her own classroom.

Ms. Smith’s plans, though had to be adjusted as the city went into lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic in the spring, which took a toll on the city’s budget and brought a hiring freeze on teachers. “This coronavirus thing wasn’t going to stop me from my plan,” she said.

Eager to begin her career, Ms. Smith took a job teaching first grade in Maryland. But getting settled was an obstacle, so the New York Foundling, an agency of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New York, one of 10 organizations supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund, used $400 to help her with moving expenses.

The school year began remotely, and Ms. Smith looks forward to the return of in-person learning. “I’m excited to get back to the school and really show what I can do,” she said.

Although she said she would prefer to be working in New York, she is enjoying her new apartment, where she has access to amenities. “I was just doing poolside yoga,” she said. And her dog, Snickers, likes the open space and grass.

Ms. Smith was one of about four million receiving degrees from American colleges and universities in the last academic year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, many of whom faced tough job prospects.

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