A young student with a promising future, 20-year-old Dustin Hitchens had always planned to go to college, get a degree and become a pharmacist.
After graduating from Ridley High School in Folsom, Pa., in 2008, Dustin moved to Florida and began attending Palm Beach Atlantic University in Palm Beach, Fla.
“It was great at first,” Hitchens said. “I was away from home and I loved being in Florida. I was on my own and I couldn’t ask for more.”
However, the sunny skies, constant warmth and profound independence were not enough to keep Hitchens in Florida. The comprehensive Christian institution and the many miles that separated him from his family and friends were enough to make him want to leave.
“I liked it at first, but the more I was there the more I realized that it wasn’t the place for me,” Hitchens said.
After his first semester during the spring of 2009 at Palm Beach Atlantic University, Hitchens decided to pack up and head back to Pennsylvania where he would attend a local community college.
Upon his return to Ridley Township, Hitchens began working the three jobs that he left when he went to school. He needed these jobs because was solely responsible for tuition wherever he chose to enroll and he also had many bills he needed to pay for on his own.
He was a cook at The Glen Mills School in Glen Mills, Pa., and had been since his sophomore year in high school; a bouncer at Finnegan’s Wake in Philadelphia where he worked for two years; and a personal trainer at Bally Total Fitness in Woodlyn, Pa. With the busy life of working three jobs, Hitchens was planning to attend Delaware County Community College in the fall of 2009.
“I was working as much as I could. I knew I had to make a good amount of money because I have to pay for school on my own,” Hitchens said.
With things looking in his favor Hitchens was excited to continue working throughout the summer and begin classes in the fall.
However, when the economy began to worsen Hitchens was beginning to experience what most of the country was going through already, unemployment.
He had worked at The Glen Mills School since his sophomore year in high school and thought that he would be fine and not have to worry about losing his job. Unfortunately, the state could not fund the school with the amount of money that they had in the past and Hitchens hours were cut drastically.
“I was working eight hours a week there and driving a half hour there and a half hour back,” Hitchens said. “It was pointless for me to stay there because what I was making was just paying for my gas to get me there and back.”
After leaving The Glen Mills School, Hitchens thought that he would be able to get more hours at either Finnegan’s Wake or the Bally’s, but he was wrong.
“Contrary to popular belief, people don’t drink more during a recession, at least not where I was working,” Hitchens said. “Hours began to get cut at Finnegan’s and I was faced with the same problem there that I was at Glen Mills, I was only getting one night a week, so I quit.”
With two long traveling jobs out of the way, Hitchens was happy that he would now be able to give more hours to Bally Total Fitness because it was a two minute drive from his house and gas expenses wouldn’t be a factor. However, he was in for a rude awakening.
“Things got pretty bad at Bally’s. When the country is in a recession, people’s first thoughts aren’t ‘Oh let me go pay to join a gym and work out,’ they are ‘No, I have to put food on the table and feed my kids.’ No one was joining the gym so my managers were forced to let people go, and unfortunately, I was one of them.”
Being out of work and forced to pay his monthly bills, such as a car payment, car insurance, a phone bill and credit cards, Hitchens was starting to worry that he would not be able to pay for school. Even though he did have some apprehension, he knew that he could count on his financial aid to help him pay his way through school.
“I was searching for jobs every single day. I was using Monster, looking through the newspaper, going to every local bar and restaurant that I could think of and I was constantly filling out applications, but no one was hiring,” Hitchens said.
After weeks of searching for a new job, Hitchens finally found a job at a local Lens Crafters. Thinking that he would be getting about 20 to 25 hours a week, he was quickly disappointed when he was only being scheduled for about eight hours.
“I honestly didn’t know what to do. I knew I needed a job to pay my bills and save for school, but I knew that I wasn’t going to get the hours I needed anytime soon,” Hitchens said.
Knowing that he needed some type of job, Hitchens decided to stay at Lens Crafters while he searched for a job that would give him more hours.
With the start of the 2009-2010 school year, Hitchens was enrolled in classes at community college and ready to continue his education; however, he faced a minor speed bump in the road to his future. After miscommunication between himself and his parents, Hitchens would have to hold off for the fall semester because his application for government aid through FAFSA did not go through successfully.
“I was really mad, both at myself and my parents. I knew I couldn’t afford school without the financial aid and I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Hitchens said. “But I do know that from now on I’m going to handle everything on my own.”
With school out of the picture for at least the fall semester, Hitchens continued his search for a job to save up more money. After searching for hours on end, Hitchens finally got a text message from a friend saying that there was an opening position at the local CVS Pharmacy. Having applied for the position a few months before, Hitchens jumped at the opportunity and did everything that he could to get the position.
“I really wanted the job. Not only because I knew I would get a good amount of hours, I wanted it because it is what I want to do in the future,” Hitchens said.
Hitchens landed the job at CVS and he is now working there about three to four days a week. In addition to having a steady job, he has also begun taking classes at Delaware County Community College.
“I am going to take all of my pre-requisite courses there until I get accepted to pharmacy school at either Temple or Thomas Jefferson,” Hitchens said. “Right now I have to take all accelerated courses and take about 25 credits between now and next fall to get caught up. It does kind of stink, but I’m just glad to finally be back in school and have a decent job.”