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A way out
Somehow, as she grew up without a father in "the worst part of Pottstown," Asia Carraby became a leader.
The 2002 class president of Pottstown High School, Carraby can serve as a shining example of what hard work and perseverance can yield as kids return to school for a new academic year.
In her youth, living near the crime-ridden corner of Washington and Walnut, Carraby dreamed of a better life.
Loitering drug dealers and streets ruled by gangbangers kept most residents from even driving through Carraby's neighborhood.
She had more responsibilities than most children her age growing up in Pottstown. Carraby helped her single mother raise four younger siblings.
"There were nights when my mother worked third shift and I was up with the infant, feeding them and knowing that I had to get up for school the next day," she said. "There were times when I had to sacrifice after-school activities because I had to babysit my siblings after school. My mother couldn't afford daycare."
Close ties with her family provided the bare necessities. Falling on hard times, the Carraby family moved in with relatives for a time.
Wishing for a better life-one with fewer obstacles-Carraby threw herself into the books and studied very hard. Education was her avenue out of the "hood," and she knew that hard work was the only way to excel.
"My motivation came from my mother," Carraby she said, describing her as a single mother who raised five children and is working to make a difference in the world by earning her bachelor's degree. Her mother also works two jobs to put food on the table.
"She taught us morals and values. Even though our lives were difficult, we definitely respected our mother," Carraby said.
Throughout school, Carraby received high honors and multiple awards. She served as a mentor for others before she ever left the halls of Pottstown High School. Faculty and friends recognized her positive attitude, and she quickly became a favorite among school administrators.
"I'm very well-known as being optimistic. I'm an analytical person. In fourth grade, I got the nanny award because my teachers said I was mature beyond my age," Carraby laughed.
As a peer mediator in high school, Carraby further developed her problem-solving skills. "It's a step before police, suspension, etc. I would aid students in talking things out to find a solution on their own. In college, I was in a similar program. It helped to develop my people skills," she said.
Those people skills came in handy when jealousy reared its head in Pottstown. Being of a mixed ethnicity, Carraby never felt fully accepted by either the African-American or Caucasion students. So instead of giving into the negativity, Carraby carved her own niche and paved the way to her own legacy.
In addition to the various clubs such as Key Club and sports like varsity cheerleading, Carraby was also a member of the Strategic Planning Committee, which decided on curriculum for the coming years in Pottstown.
Carraby said a defining time in her life was when she became the first student from Pottstown to study abroad as part of the International Rotary Club.
Traveling to Santiago, Chile, Carraby lived with a host family that taught her much more than to speak Spanish fluently.
"The best part was looking at life in a completely different way," she said. "When you grow up in Pottstown, you tend to only see the things in Pottstown. When I left, it opened up my eyes to several different things. I noticed Americans are very materialistic. We are enclosed in a bubble. I was able to see marriages work. My host parents would walk hand in hand in public. We had big meals at the table everyday of the week. Communication ... Things you just don't see in the states."
She is now a member of Rotex, part of the Rotary program. Rotex is made up of former exchange students who interview potential exchange students. Sharing her first-hand insight on the benefits of studying abroad, Carraby helps screen candidates.
"The experience made me a strong independent woman," she said. "I left when I was only 16 years old. I was pulled away from society and my peer group. I got to focus on who I was and what I wanted. It was the turning point of my life."
Carraby earned an academic scholarship to attend Villanova University, where she graduated in May with a BA in business administration. She majored in marketing and international business and also studied Spanish.
She graduated with honors and was inducted into the Chi Alpha Epsilon Honor Society.
"I had worked 30 or more hours a week and commuted on 422, 76 and 476 in traffic up to two hours every day to school, five days a week," Carraby said. "Sometimes I would get up at 4 a.m. to beat traffic and study until my 8:30 a.m. class started."
Carraby's hard work and commitment paid off. She now works for one of Fortune 500's best companies: Johnson and Johnson.
As a primary care executive pharmaceutical representative, she has had to learn about the medical field as well.
"I started working at the age of 10 as a babysitter every weekend from Friday at 4 p.m. straight through until Sunday evening. Since then, I have held a job and gone to school. It has taught me responsibility, drive, commitment and more," Carraby said.
As she waits for her MBA recommendation letter from Johnson and Johnson, Carraby studies sections of the manuals to prepare for the GMAT entrance exam to graduate school.
"I thing it's vital when you get out of college to keep going because you already have your school mentality," she said.
Carraby is glad that her old neighborhood has calmed down since her school days. She credits much of the improvements to former Pottstown Mayor Ann Jones.
"Washington and Walnut Streets have definitely changed. The community has done a lot to build it up. The crime focus has moved away from the streets and has actually moved onto Beech Street. It's not as negative. I'm excited about the change. I'm really impressed with Ann Jones her platform was revitalization. She was at every single meeting, school games and still attends these events. We sat on a couple of committees together."
Carraby continues her community involvement and hopes to bring about change in the way people view Pottstown. As living proof that anything is possible, Carraby knows that many of the students in Pottstown just need to be shown the way out of the hood.
Carraby found her way through something that is accessible to everyone: education.

Contact reporter Antoinette Colon
at 610-367-6041, ext. 255 or
alcolon@berksmontnews.com.