A McDonald’s national educational program called Archways to Opportunity gives local workers like Caitlin Button an oversized new start in life.
The program has three components: helping employees acquire English skills, graduate from high school, and receive tuition assistance for two- or four-year college degrees.
To be eligible for the benefit, an employee must be at McDonald’s for at least 90 days and work 15 hours per week.
“The Archways program provides students with tuition assistance to fully pay for courses offered at CCV towards an associate degree. Jarod Waite, Deputy Regional Director at CCV in Winooski and St. Albans.
In a ceremony Tuesday at Essex Junction McDonald’s, Button became the first person from Vermont to go all the way, graduating from high school.
Button says she grew up in a broken home and at 13 she found herself in state custody, bouncing between foster homes.
“High school wasn’t going to work out for me then,” Button said.
Yet Button yearned to get his GED, especially after seeing his parents, both of whom dropped out of high school, try to raise families with minimum wage jobs.
“I didn’t want to have to struggle like that,” Button said.
After working at McDonald’s for over a year, the 24-year-old realized she could do better with the company’s perk: finishing high school.
With Archways to Opportunity, employees can take online courses for free. College tuition assistance amounts to between $ 2,500 and $ 3,000 per year, which is a full-time course load.
But despite her dedication, Button says there were countless times she wanted to give up. But Jennifer Stephens, her best friend and McDonald’s manager, told her quitting smoking was not an option.
“I support everyone on my team, but Caitlin is a very special person to me. She has a big heart, she is very kind,” said Stephens.
Stephens says Button often called her frustrated and discouraged, so they could do their homework together.
“I kept telling him, ‘One foot in front of the other. You can do it. You have so much to give to society and the community,'” Stephens said.
This support drove Button to success. She graduated from high school in just 14 months while working full time.
“We haven’t had anybody in that time, so it’s quite an accomplishment,” said Larry Johnston of the Napoli Group LLC, which oversees 60 McDonald’s stores in Vermont, New Hampshire, and upstate. New York and Maine. “You have to make a lot of sacrifices to spend a whole year graduating from high school, but she was very determined to make it happen.”
And that determination has already taken her to another important stage in her life: enrolling in college.
“I can’t wait for her to graduate from college and move on. And I’ll be there by her side,” Stephens said.
“There were times when I felt really overwhelmed, but I’m very excited and proud of myself,” Button said.
Button started online college courses at Colorado Technical University about a month ago and says she feels confident in her progress. In four years, she hopes to earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.
This year, 240 students are enrolled in the program, with McDonald’s spending $ 560,000 on employee training.