Rachel Blakeman of the Community Research Institute at Purdue Fort Wayne appears on Opportunity Knocks and talks about the scope and impact of rising wages.

Marion High School Student Wins JAG Award for Speech

May 8, 2017
Darice Upchurch hit rock bottom at the age of 12.
A molestation four years earlier at the hands of another student had left her bereft of self-esteem. She wore tomboy clothes, believing that would keep her safe from another sexual assault. She bottled up her emotions. She distanced herself from family and peers. She began cutting herself. On her wrists. On her arms. On her stomach.  She was ready to end her life and was trying to figure out what it would take to bleed to death.
Had it not been for her mother coming home while Darice was contemplating overdosing on over-the-counter painkillers, Darice might have succeeded.
Fast forward to today and Darice, a senior at Marion High School, has emerged from the darkness with the help of God and Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG), a federal program overseen regionally by Northeast Indiana Works and Brightpoint designed to assist young people experiencing barriers to educational and workplace success.
Earlier this year, Darice delivered a speech about her journey to wellness and won a first-place award at the JAG State Career Development Conference in Indianapolis. The Howard University-bound 18-year-old will deliver the speech again Tuesday (May 9) at a meeting of the State Workforce Innovation Council (SWIC), which includes among its members leaders in government, education, business and social services.
“I’m always happy now,” Darice says, “and I realize that God saved me for a purpose. Even though my journey has not been smooth-sailing or perfect, I wouldn’t change anything. Everything that has happened has made me stronger.”
Darice was one of 10 award recipients at the state conference from northeast Indiana’s 14 JAG programs. The others: Iesha Young, Snider High School, first place, critical thinking; Millennia Bidwell, East Noble High School, first place, cover design; Cierra Jordan, Heritage High School, second place, employability skills; Snider High School, second place, chapter brochure; Asia Ledesma and Isaia Ruiz, East Noble High School, third place, entrepreneurship plan; Adam Byers, Manchester High School, third place, financial literacy; Wayne High School, third place, blog; and Tyler Caldwell, Garrett High School, honorable mention, outstanding senior finalist.
Darice says her turnaround was due, in part, to a promise she made to herself and to two JAG activities.
Two years ago, shortly before participating in JAG, she promised herself she would not commit suicide: “I wrote it down and saved it. I realized that suicide doesn’t fix things. It’s the easy way out and it hurts people.”
But her internal struggles were not over and it took two JAG discussion activities – Motivational Mondays and Topic Tuesdays – to truly pull her from her shell.
“We were able to be free to talk about anything we might be going through,” she says, “and I realized that opening up shouldn’t be a problem. It was amazing being able to open up to other kids. JAG brought out our voices and allowed us to say what we needed to say. Allowed us to be ourselves.”
Today, she says, she’s a “strong, independent person” determined to become a physical therapist so she can help others.
“I love the unique individual that I am,” she says. “Even though the molestation did hurt me when I was younger, now it doesn’t affect me in the way I carry myself every day. You can always catch me smiling now.”
In her winning speech, Darice identifies herself at times as Lyrae Tsunami. The first name is a combination of the names of her twin sisters. The last name is a nod to the waves that can intrude in one’s life – waves that now are not nearly as threatening.
“Over the last two years,” her speech goes, “I have figured out my career path. The waves are at ease and I am at peace and JAG helped me realize I can be anything that I want to be … The sky’s the limit. This is me. I am Darice. And I am finally free.”
Returning to college at 38 years old for career advancement was a great challenge, but WorkOne Northeast not only helped with grants for tuition and books, they also helped me hone my interview skills and aided in developing an effective resume. Today, thanks to WorkOne, I am a Registered Nurse and clinical specialist for Parkview Physicians Group.
Tina Hamrick