Yulonda Durst, who survived a childhood of poverty and overcame personal hardships as an adult, is now at Texas State Technical College as a student recruiter hoping to help young people find a better life through education.
Durst was raised in Beaumont and as a young girl, along with her four siblings, was homeless, usually forced to spend days apart from her family.
“We were a large family, and it was difficult for family to take all of us in,” she said. “But through it all my mom remained positive, kept us praying and reminded us that struggles were temporary.”
And temporary they were.
Durst and her family slowly moved up from homelessness to a house with no electricity to the projects and finally to a house they could call their own after Durst’s mother married.
The Beaumont native grew up to be a licensed cosmetologist, a youth pastor for New Hope Deliverance Ministry, a church in her hometown, and a college graduate.
She earned an associate degree from a technology school in Beaumont in Business Computer Information Systems in 2012 while working and raising her seven children.
“It wasn’t easy, but I wanted more for me and my family. So I pushed forward,” she said.
While juggling her salon, Graceful Hands Beauty Salon, established in 2005, a newfound career as a financial aid representative at her alma mater, and her family, more life challenges were thrown her way.
A fire, which was ruled arson, destroyed her salon on Thanksgiving Day 2016 and a divorce left Durst in pieces and feeling discouraged.
“I didn’t rebuild. I wanted a brand new start,” she said. “And it was while looking for a place to live in the Houston area that I drove by TSTC and told my children, ‘I’m going to work there someday.’”
It was only two weeks before Hurricane Harvey that Durst and her children began a new life in Houston. She said she is thankful that her family was okay and their properties did not suffer damage.
“We were blessed, but many weren’t so lucky,” she said.
Knowing this is what encouraged her to volunteer at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston and work as a FEMA contractor for four months before getting a job at TSTC.
Durst is now the newest student recruiter at TSTC’s Fort Bend County campus and said she was immediately impressed with the campus and its employees.
“At TSTC I feel like we’re all equal. I’m part of one great, big family,” she said. “It’s all hands on deck, no matter your position. There’s so much unity.”
Durst has many goals for her new position, but her main one is to encourage higher education in students who don’t see it as a possibility.
“I always tell students that education is the key that opens doors,” she said. “I believe everyone has the potential of getting a college degree.”
Durst added, “TSTC is a two-year college that places students on a career path,” she said. “When a student enters TSTC they are taking steps toward a new career and life.”
Durst, who is still a youth pastor, said she hopes to grow with the college by being the continued support TSTC students need.
For more information the programs offered at TSTC’s Fort Bend County campus, visit tstc.edu.
Registration for Summer and Fall 2018 begins April 2.