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Darrin Madison, a 20-year-old AmeriCorps Ally and an aspiring environmental lawyer in Milwaukee, is determined to get a college degree. But he already knows firsthand that obtaining it won’t come without challenges.

Last year, Darrin had to leave the private university he was attending after attaining 24 of the needed 29 credits of his freshman year of college. Darrin is the first in his immediate family to attend college, and he says his semester of higher education “was an extremely amazing experience, but navigating the administration was difficult. I was able to finish my first year with good grades and some great opportunities, but at a hefty [financial] expense.”

After his semester, Darrin returned to Milwaukee to earn money to pay his university debt, and to regroup and figure out a new pathway to attain his dream of a college education. That dream began when he was a teenager and was volunteering at the Urban Ecology Center, where he worked side by side with scientists and researchers.

“I wanted to be like these people who were doing amazing work every day in our city,” says Darrin. “It’s what inspired me to want to become an environmental lawyer, to fight for the preservation of natural resources in our state and country.”

Currently, Darrin is serving with Public Allies Milwaukee, where he’s part of Public Allies’ new “Education Pathway” program for Allies who are aspiring to get added support on their way to — and through — college. The program is designed to aid the efforts of many first-generation college students — like Darrin — who have the will to graduate, but need extra help maximizing financial resources along the way.

“Public Allies is an amazing experience, and everyone has been so supportive,” says Darrin. “They’ve been helping me navigate what the next steps are for my education and in my life, holistically speaking.”

While Darrin has many options before him, he’s clear about one thing: He will get a college degree.

“At the end of the day, continuing my education somewhere is my long-term goal,” he says. “I’m not giving up on what I want to do. A lot of people during this time period kind of give up and just go into the workforce. But I don’t want to give up my dreams.”