'It means to me that I'm a fighter.'
The last thing Dawn Miller remembers after coming down with a sudden splitting headache in her Florida condo was calling an ambulance.
Then, it all went dark.
“I must have passed out," she recalls of that terrifying night in 2014. "Because the next thing I remember was three weeks later, waking up in the hospital.” When she came to, confused and with part of her head shaved, Miller learned she'd had an aneurism. She was lucky to be alive.
However, that's about the same time it felt like Miller's luck ran out.
Despite working two jobs, the medical costs Miller accumulated in the hospital were too much for her to handle. Eventually, as a new PSA from the Robin Hood Foundation notes, she became homeless. With the money she had left, Miller left Florida for her hometown of New York, believing there'd be more services for struggling people like her in NYC than in the Sunshine State. It was there, standing in a crowded, overwhelming transit hub asking others for help, when the realities of homelessness really hit her.
“I was in shock,” she said. “Once I got here, standing with my suitcases in Port Authority, I felt like I could break down and cry.”
She lost everything ... well, almost everything.
Throughout her experience being homeless, the one thing Miller never let go of was her college diploma.
She'd gone back to school at the age of 42. She graduated from Pace University with a degree in communications. She knows what it means — and what it takes — to work hard and achieve your goals.
"I graduated with a 3.71 GPA," she says. "I did very well. I was very proud of myself. And every time I look at my degree, I have something to be proud of.”
In some ways, just holding on to the diploma reminded her that she's a fighter. And it helped her find a path to a better life.
Miller is part of a new series called "The Things They Carry," where she appears along with four other people who've experienced homelessness discussing an item they never let go of.
The video is by the Robin Hood Foundation, a poverty-fighting group based in New York City. A man named William held on to a pair of pants he wore every day on the streets. "I keep these jeans here to remind myself of where I come from," he said.
For Hector, it was a wallet his mother gave him years ago. "The wallet saved me," Hector says in the PSA, explaining how just remembering his mother stopped him from killing himself moments before he was about to do so. "I always keep it for myself."
Thanks to a few helping hands, things are looking up for Miller.
She discovered Urban Pathways, a program of Robin Hood's focused on fighting homelessness in New York. Now Miller has a part-time job and expects to be living in a new home in the Bronx, before Christmas.
She hasn't forgotten what it felt like that day in Port Authority, though — that devastating feeling like she'd lost it all. She hopes her story inspires others to see the world a little bit differently too.
“Keep an open mind and an open heart when you’re dealing with someone less fortunate," she says, noting homelessness can come out of nowhere. "It can hit anybody."
Watch Miller's heart-wrenching PSA, part of "The Things They Carry," below:
"This is my college degree. It means to me that I'm a fighter."Dawn is a formerly homeless New Yorker and was helped by a #RHFunded organization.Each week between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we will be sharing the story of a NYer who overcame homelessness. What’s it like to lose everything? What do you fight to keep? How do you choose? These are their stories. These are The Things They Carry. http://bit.ly/2gkhaFlPosted by Robin Hood Foundation on Thursday, November 24, 2016