The Power of Second Chances
This story originally appeared in the Spring ’23 edition of alumnecc Magazine
Nairoby Sanchez ’14 is a firm believer in second chances. While enrolled at Northern Essex, she overcame a tumultuous high school experience to become a standout student and volunteer. In her current role as the Director of Programs for Mass CultivatED, she helps those who have been impacted by the War on Drugs to find success in the burgeoning cannabis industry.
Sanchez first experienced the power of second chances when her mother was a student at Northern Essex. She had dropped out of high school as a pregnant 17-year-old.
“As a teen mom, she was told she would never amount to anything,” remembers Sanchez. “She decided that was not going to be her story. My siblings and I saw her trajectory over so many years, working so hard to get an education.”
Her mother got her GED, enrolled in NECC, and later transferred to UMass Lowell, becoming the first in her family to graduate from college. Seeing her mother’s determination throughout those years inspired Sanchez to do the same.
“My grades weren’t the best in high school, and I had a difficult time. So, I went to Northern Essex and had the idea of turning everything around and do what my mother did: work hard. And I did. I got a 3.8 GPA and was involved in so many things. It reinvigorated my own sense of possibilities.”
Sanchez graduated with her associate degree in liberal arts: political science and earned a scholarship to UMass Boston. She even fulfilled a lifelong dream of studying abroad in France. Sanchez transferred to UMass Lowell to finish her political science bachelor’s degree closer to her home in Haverhill. Upon graduation, she realized the hard work had just begun.
“I didn’t think I would land in politics right away. I got so many rejections. People would tell me there aren’t many jobs in the political market or they don’t pay enough. But eventually, I managed to land a job in Elizabeth Warren’s office.”
While working on Senator Warren’s presidential campaign, Sanchez discovered how she could use her background to advocate for change.
“Knowing the type of mind shehas regarding seeing a solution to community issues, I realized there’s a lot you can do with policy. There’s more work to be done. You have to learn to bridge the gap between policy and those advocating for that policy change.”
Her interest in policy eventually led Sanchez to Mass CultivatED, a nonprofit that uses public-private partnerships to assist individuals affected by the War on Drugs. Mass CultivatED, dubbed the “nation’s first jail-to-jobs cannabis program,” works with individuals to get their records expunged and helps them find work in the cannabis industry. Education is a key component in that process, and Mass CultivatED has partnered with institutions, including Northern Essex, to provide that piece.
Northern Essex launched a cannabis certificate program in the Fall of 2022. Students can enroll in the online courses anytime and earn a certificate in eight weeks. Currently, Mass CultivatED has eight students enrolled in NECC’s program.
“NECC offering that in the communities that have been impacted by the War on Drugs provides direct access for people to turn their negatives into a positive,” says Sanchez. “By NECC having the institutionalized, trusted space, the community will open up more to that possibility. We’re creating possibilities here.”
Mass CultivatED is currently expanding its reach across the Merrimack Valley and the North Shore. Sanchez hopes that means people in places like Lawrence, where she spent much of her youth, will get to experience a second chance, too.
“I want people to know there are systems around you that are working to see you thrive, whether it’s programs like Mass CultivatEd or a school system like NECC. Take advantage of the opportunities bestowed upon you. You might not realize they can be impactful. So, take that chance to take that leap of faith, but take it knowing you have that community behind you.”