Alumni Profile: For Sally Ancheta, Hawai‘i CC was the start of a comeback story
When Sally Ancheta walked onto the Hawai'i Community College campus to join a job readiness training program in 1992, she had no idea how big a step it was. But as it turned out, it was the start of a transition out of poverty and domestic abuse into a thriving higher education journey, family and career.
Ancheta had moved to Hawai‘i Island with a partner who showed signs of abusive behavior on O'ahu, and she lived in a dangerous situation for several years with no recourse for help. Soon after moving to Hawai'i Island, she had a severe asthmatic episode that left her hospitalized and disabled for several years due to severe asthma. Living in poverty and on assistance, she was introduced to a job readiness program at Hawai'i CC in her early 20s.
“I wanted to be able to work, I wanted to get off of assistance, but I didn’t feel like I had the skill set,” Ancheta said recently.
In the job readiness program she surprised herself.
“There was just a light that turned on in that program,” she said. “Within a month or so I realized I had strong reading, math and accounting skills, and it made me realize I should be college-bound.”
So she took the next step and re-applied to be a degree-seeking student at Hawai'i CC for the Spring 1993 semester. To her surprise, the same day she applied, she also received a letter from the Hawai'i CC Financial Aid office saying she had been awarded her financial aid for that spring semester.
“That door was wide open for me, and I feel like that door changed every trajectory of my life,” Ancheta said. “When I started at Hawai‘i CC, I was still being abused, I was still being sheltered, but I started to create a really healthy support system, from my classmates to professors to getting an on-campus job. I ended up working in the counseling center for two-and-a-half years. And it was through those building of trusting relationships that I was able to ask for help.”
When she did ask for help in August of 1994, Barbara Arthurs, who was an academic counselor, her Phi Theta Kappa Advisor and later became a Vice Chancellor, helped her secure a safe place to live and rebuild her foundation.
“That was what changed my life,” Ancheta said.
Not long after, Ancheta met a “shy, handsome Filipino” student on campus, a few years later they married, and this year they are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary.
“Really good things happen at Hawai'i Community College,” Ancheta said.
Academic and Career Journey
Ancheta thrived academically, was active in Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, Kanaka Mā'oli Hawaiian Civic Club and ASUH-Hawai'i CC student government, and earned associate degrees in Liberal Arts and Accounting from Hawai'i CC.
When she transferred to the University of Hawai'i at Hilo to earn her bachelor’s degree, she originally planned to study business but switched to communications, which taught her the value of following your passion.
“Major in something you’re going to be excited to go to class for,” she said. “Don’t worry about the jobs behind it. It’s really about what you’re called to do.”
Since graduating from UH Hilo in Fall 1999, Ancheta has worked in the nonprofit sector at Goodwill Industries of Hawai’i, the American Lung Association of Hawai'i, and is currently the Hawai'i Island Community Coordinator for the Hawai'i Public Health Institute (formerly the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawai'i).
She has led innovative anti-tobacco and anti-vaping programs in the Hawai'i Island community and is active on local boards such as Hilo Bayfront Trails, was formerly the President of Hawai'i Island Rural Health Association, and is a member of the Mayor’s Active Living Advisory Council.
Ancheta also stays connected to Hawai'i CC and is a guest speaker in the Human Services program. Ancheta was in advanced placement courses in high school but she dropped out and earned her G.E.D. She believes her experience is similar to many others who got “off track” but were then called to college later in life.
“I always encourage students to keep walking through those open doors,” Ancheta said. “You don’t have to have all the answers, just keep moving forward. As you keep moving forward those opportunities will come.”