Ashley's journey from homelessness to hope as she discovered her passion for automotive at UEI College in Oceanside

From Homelessness to Hope: An Automotive Student’s Inspiring Journey

For ten years, living on the streets in Tucson, Ashley Watson was convinced she had no skills worth exploring.

Ashley had managed to graduate from high school, but she never went to college because the general courses required for most degrees seemed overwhelming. Then life became hectic, and before she knew it, she was homeless and losing custody of her two young daughters.

After years on the streets, Ashley decided to make a change. She had moved to California and lost herself in the streets of San Diego but discovered a hidden love for auto mechanics.

“It felt good to me to be able to fix something and have it work,” she said. “Fixing automobiles is expensive and it felt good to be able to do that myself. I could take things from a non-operable car to a working vehicle. It’s pretty amazing.”

Discovering this hidden interest didn’t cause a major change at first. That didn’t happen until Ashley’s son was born and was eventually taken away from her custody as well. That was when Ashley knew she needed to turn her life around for the better.

“I knew I couldn’t let it happen again,” she said. “I couldn’t let my daughters down. I had already lost them, I already let them down, I couldn’t let them down again by not being the mother they knew I could be. At least if I could keep their brother, they could point to that and say ‘I knew she could do it.’”

As she worked towards sobriety and getting custody of her son back, Ashley discovered the Automotive Technician program at UEI College in Oceanside. It was exactly the type of education she needed that provided hands-on learning without spending time brushing up on subjects she had no interest in.

Right away the content was interesting. Ashley had already begun to pick up some odd jobs helping people with their cars, but now she was learning everything with more depth.

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“A lot of things I knew or did before and didn’t know I was doing it correctly,” she said. “Now I’m learning the reasons why things are right or didn’t work as well. I love the hands-on work. It seems like every time we complete a module someone will have an issue with their car in that area and suddenly, I know how to fix it. It has been awesome.”

In July of 2023 Ashley got custody of her son back and an apartment of her own. She also still has contact with her daughters, who come to visit her in her new home from time to time. It’s a world of difference compared to where she was a year ago.

“I think I’m still dreaming,” Ashley said. “I’m going to wake up and be out on the streets, riding my bike around. It feels like a dream and it’s not real but it is real and I’m very happy that it is real. My son turned 2 in December, and he is so smart. I never experienced this age with my daughters so it’s amazing to me to see how much impact I have and the things I’ve done with him to see what he has learned. It’s melting my heart.”

““Ashley is a good student, involved and hands-on. She is very determined,” said her instructor Joe Piraino. “She goes out of her way every day to help others. I am very, very proud of her. Since she started, she was in a difficult living situation, now she has her own apartment and she is thriving. I think with the right guidance she will do awesome. Ashley is determined to succeed.”

Ashley has not completed the program yet. Once she does, she’s looking forward to building her skills and someday purchasing her own tow truck to begin her own towing and mechanics business.

“If you want it, you’ll get it if you keep going at it,” she said. “You just have to stick with it.”

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