Specializing in hope

February can be one of the bleakest months in Northeast Ohio. Fortunately, there is a bright spot this time of year with the annual DREAM conference, hosted by Achieving the Dream (ATD).

Recently, I joined more than 300 community college leaders for the ATD annual convening. Inside the virtual conference, I felt myself become energized through the stories and strategies shared – especially the messages shared by ATD President and CEO Dr. Karen Stout.

During her opening remarks, Dr. Stout unveiled ATD’s new vision statement, which centers on helping to create vibrant communities by advancing community colleges as hubs of equity and mobility in their communities. She went on to encourage each college to be a beacon of hope. As our communities and students continue to make their way make through the challenges of recent years, Dr. Stout urged us each to create hope on our campuses and beyond. It was a message that set the tone for the entire DREAM conference. And even now, long after the final plenary session has ended, I find myself returning to Dr. Stout’s message for inspiration.


It seems like a simple thing. It’s a dream, a wish; the feeling that something better is yet to come.

Hope is the spark that ignites us to strive for more. It calls from inside us, pushing us to take a risk and put ourselves out there. It’s the quiet resolve that the result will be worth the effort. Hope is essential for our future, but these dark times may have dimmed the hope inside many.

Fortunately, there are places that specialize in hope: community colleges.

At LCCC, our mission directly aligns with ATD’s vision statement. Our hope for a vibrant future for all has developed into a strategic plan to ensure that everyone in our region has equitable access to the education they need to build a successful future for themselves, their families and all of Lorain County. We know that education can be the golden ticket to a better tomorrow. But before a student ever makes it to their first class, they must first have hope that they can succeed. Once there is hope, a plan can be developed to help each student reach their goals. Whether it is an associate degree or certificate from LCCC or a bachelor’s or master’s degree through LCCC’s University Partnership, we can help our students and our community build and spread hope.

Brandon Woodall is an LCCC culinary student who turned his dream into action. Named a 2022 DREAM Scholar by ATD, Brandon is inspiring people across the country with his story of hope and determination. Long before he was named a DREAM Scholar, Brandon was a kid growing up with two loves: basketball and cooking with his Aunt Valerie. His basketball dreams nearly came true – he briefly attended two different colleges and played on their basketball teams, but a lack of funding and support services caused him to drop out each time. He worked a variety of jobs to make ends meet, but cooking remained his passion. In 2018, he opened his own catering and private chef business, named Valerie’s Kitchen and Catering, in honor of his aunt. When the pandemic caused his plans to change, his aunt encouraged him to enroll in LCCC’s culinary arts program. Brandon was nervous but filled with hope.

Now in his second year at LCCC, Brandon’s hard work is paying off. He is excelling in the culinary program and making a name for himself in Lorain County and beyond as he wows clients with his food and inspires them with his enthusiasm for his craft. When Brandon earns an associate degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management – Culinary Arts later this year, he will be the first in his family to graduate from college. Learn more about Brandon.

During the ATD DREAM conference, Brandon shared an autobiographical poem. Part of his poem includes:

I am from building an empire from the ground up so that my children and grandchildren can break generational curses.
I am from being scared to death to enter culinary school because of fear of failure.
I am from Chef Adam and Chef Brad, my culinary instructors who saw potential in me.

His poem continues,

I am no longer from the doubt and negativity generated by people who think you can’t do it.
I am Chef B and I am here to build my dynasty.

(Read Brandon’s full poem below.)

And what a dynasty it will be. With the help of LCCC, Brandon is creating a foundation for a successful future. Through LCCC’s customized support services, Brandon and all LCCC students receive customized academic support and access to holistic wrap around services through the LCCC Advocacy and Resource Center. These supports, as well as every action we take at LCCC, are deliberately designed with equity in mind.

It’s my core belief that every student’s dream matters, and LCCC is committed to helping every student achieve their dreams, no matter their circumstances. Through our work with Achieving the Dream, we continue to make strides in equity in access, experience and completion for all students. LCCC first joined ATD in 2011 and with their guidance and our own strategic planning, LCCC has risen to a leader in student success. In fact, LCCC has held ATD Leader College status since 2015, and been a Leader College of Distinction since 2019. In 2020, LCCC received the ATD Leah Meyer Austin Award for student success. With a laser focus, LCCC is strategically addressing equity in all aspects of LCCC’s work. LCCC’s Equity by Design Team actively seeks to advance equity and inclusion for all students, and a multi-pronged approach to community outreach ensures everyone in our region has the opportunity to access higher education.

The result of these measures is an increase in students’ persistence and an overall increase in completion rates, especially among minority, low-income and under-represented groups. Over the past decade, graduation attainment for LCCC’s Black/African American and Hispanic/Latinx students has nearly quadrupled. Additional progress includes an increase in the completion of gateway math and English courses, with the largest increase among low-income students; increased persistence from year to year, with the largest increase among Black/African American students; and increased completion rates among all students, with the largest increase among first-generation college students.

These improvements are the result of deliberate policy changes, holistic support and reaching students earlier in their academic career to ensure all people in our area build the hope of a better future. For students in grades 7-12, LCCC’s dual enrollment programs allow students to gain college experience – for free and often in their home schools. In fact, 45% of Lorain County high school students earn LCCC college credit by the time they graduate. That amounts to a savings of nearly $5 million for local families.

That early touch point to college builds momentum for high school students – many who are the first in their family to pursue higher education. In fact, 81 percent of Lorain County high school graduates who earn LCCC dual enrollment credit continue in higher education – compared the national average of 66 percent.

These are remarkable gains, but there is always more work ahead. My hope for the future is that more students will turn to their community college to help turn their hopes into a plan for success – just like Brandon.



I am from
By Brandon Woodall, Sr.

I am Brandon Woodall Sr.
I am from where most people don’t make it out.
From empty abandoned houses in the neighborhood and broken glass on the street.
I am from the unforgiving city of Cleveland, Ohio.
72nd and St. Clair street to be exact.
I am from the number one bus on the RTA, standing up and holding on tight as the bus sways.
I am from long walks to Save A lot in the snow and selling brownies and chili dogs to have lunch money in my pockets.

I am from grandma’s and grandad’s house which was filled with aromas from burning charcoal outside to the smell of the well seasoned chicken wings inside.
I am from the caramelization of nutmeg and brown sugar on top of my Aunt Val’s yams.
I am from loud smacks on the table when an Ace beats a King in spades.
I am from the loud cheer in the kitchen when the Browns score.

I am from building an empire from the ground up so that my children and grandchildren can break generational curses.
I am from sleepless nights due to preparation for events.
I am from being scared to death to enter culinary school because of fear of failure.

I am from Chef Adam and Chef Brad, my culinary instructors who saw potential in me.
I am from Lorain County Community College where they gave me an opportunity to be a Sous Chef for many events getting me ready for the real world.
I was appointed to be a part of the first ever Traveling Culinary team tasked with assisting a 4 star restaurant with its grand opening.
I am 1 of 4 students from Lorain County Community College picked to publish some of my recipes in the Ohio Farm Bureau Magazine which gave me exposure throughout Ohio.

I am no longer from the doubt and negativity generated by people who think you can’t do it.

In the next 5 years I see myself being a private chef and expanding my catering craft.
People around the world will come to eat my lamb and rice with brown sauce, my seafood boil with juicy king crab, my mouth watering Cajun corn, and my famous soul food that is stellar beyond its years.

I am Chef B and I am here to build my dynasty.