Photo provided by Edwin Maxcy. Used with permission.
When someone says, “I am living the American dream,” it’s usually assumed they’re speaking from a position of “success” as it’s typically (and sometimes shortsightedly) defined. You know, a great job, a nice car, a family … a home. When Edwin Maxcy made that statement back in 2018 in a “SkillsUSA Champions” article about his life, he was an 18-year-old orphan living alone in a 2002 Ford Excursion. And yet, his matter-of-fact declaration contained not a hint of sarcasm, not a drop of self-pity. Despite the immense — seemingly immovable — challenges that stood against him, Maxcy clung to that dream and the hope it inspired. That hope was not of the “pie-in-the-sky” variety; it was rooted in Maxcy’s involvement with SkillsUSA, where he still had access to people who loved and supported him and opportunities to support himself through the skills he was passionate about developing. Little did he know that his story would inspire a SkillsUSA program designed to spark that same hope in students just like him.
“It’s amazing to me, what he’s been through,” says Jonathan Warren, Maxcy’s former automotive technology instructor and SkillsUSA advisor at Cypress (Texas) Springs High School. “It’s one of those made-for-TV afternoon specials. So much has happened to him, you’d think he’s making it up.”
Unfortunately, the tragic details of Maxcy’s upbringing are very real. “I grew up in a house with lots of family violence, drugs and alcohol,” Maxcy said back in 2018. “I have seen so much more than anyone my age should have ever seen in their first 18 years of life.” Maxcy’s mother died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound when he was 11, and he listened in on the phone as she passed away. “My mom had many problems,” he remembers, “but she was always giving of herself to help others and always wanted the best for all of her children. It was hard losing my mom. We spent a lot of time together.”
The loss was hard for the whole family, including Maxcy’s father and six siblings. Throughout the ordeal’s aftermath, including a period spent in child protective services custody, Maxcy refused to resign himself to the level of despair only hopelessness can bring. He’d somehow developed an innate ability to accept what reality threw at him and, in his own words, “use that to push me further.” A rare positive life-defining moment from Maxcy’s childhood came when he helped his dad work on the family vehicle, the aforementioned Excursion that would later become his temporary home. The experience served as an epiphany for Maxcy: Through working on the truck, he’d found something he could control, something he could use his skills — his knowledge — to actually repair. He’d found something he loved. Once he entered high school, that discovery led him to SkillsUSA and Warren’s program.
Rays of Light
“I joined SkillsUSA because I wanted to be successful in life,” Maxcy says. “Edwin is a really hard worker,” adds Dr. Cheryl Henry, principal at Cypress Springs. “Edwin has this drive to be better than everyone else, and just doing the minimum isn’t enough for him. He has this drive to do more and learn more. His struggles don’t stop him from doing what he has to do.”
A new chapter was added to those struggles just before Maxcy’s senior year when his father passed away. The tenuous ties holding the family together finally gave way as a result, and that’s when Maxcy found himself homeless. It’s also when he began to lean most heavily on one of the few sources of support left in his life: SkillsUSA.
Through Warren’s encouragement, Maxcy had already become a SkillsUSA district officer, an experience that helped him gain personal confidence while developing leadership skills that continue to pay dividends. Now, his main focus was making good on a promise related to his technical skills. “I promised my dad before he died that I would win my [Diesel Equipment Technology] competition at district and state levels and make it to nationals,” Maxcy recalls with simmering pride. “That’s exactly what I did.”
Although winning his state competition earned him the right to attend the national competition, it didn’t earn him the necessary funds. That’s when more SkillsUSA-related support came to the rescue, this time in the form of a generous travel scholarship from partner Mike Rowe and his mikeroweWORKS Foundation. While Maxcy didn’t medal at the national competition, the experience of participating left him energized and more confident than ever in the opportunities for a better life now within reach.
Wresting Hope From Heartbreak
As the 2018 feature on Maxcy concluded (read the full article here), he was in a good place. With a job at the Mustang CAT headquarters for Caterpillar in Houston, Maxcy was building new goals on the foundation of those he’d just achieved. He revealed to the article’s writer — national SkillsUSA staff member Ann Schreiber, now retired — his hopes to attend college, find success in a career suited to his skills and, ultimately, become a teacher. Schreiber also discovered that Maxcy — in dire financial need himself — was also volunteering at Halter, an organization that helps kids with special needs through exposure to animals (especially miniature horses) in a farm-based environment. Maxcy performed repairs there on the organization’s equipment. “Edwin’s had an absolutely heartbreaking life,” Schreiber says. “But to this day, he feels he’s living the American dream and that he needs to give back to his community. Let that sink in.”
When an article is published, it’s time for the writer to move on to the next story, but Schreiber couldn’t let this one go. After all, despite the positive direction Maxcy’s life was taking, he was still living in his car, still struggling to support himself financially and still clinging to educational and career goals that would be nearly unattainable without help. Schreiber didn’t just want a “hopeful” ending. She wanted a happy one. So, she helped.
“I remembered my journalism teacher and how she helped me get writing scholarships so that I could stay in school after my first semester,” Schreiber recalls. “She called a lot of people to help me. Helping Edwin was my way to pay it forward.” It took a combination of Schreiber’s dogged determination and phone calls, the generosity of certain partners and a GoFundMe campaign set up by Halter, but, in 2019, Maxcy was able to attend Caterpillar’s ThinkBIG program at Oklahoma State University of Technology. “A lot of what I learned there, I could’ve only learned in that program,” Maxcy says today with appreciation. “It helped me advance my skills.”
Schreiber was thrilled with the outcome, too, but the experience also shined a light on something she felt SkillsUSA was missing at the national level: a special fund that could immediately help future students like Maxcy who were in desperate need. And so, in coordination with other SkillsUSA staff, the Hope Fund was — to quote Schreiber — “born of frustration, inspired by a remarkable man.”
Today, all monies donated to the Hope Fund are set aside not just to help students like Maxcy, but also chapters in need as a result of natural disasters. Once an in-person national conference is back on the calendar, the fund will also cover daily lunches for student attendees who need the help. (To learn more about the Hope Fund and how to donate, go to: www.skillsusa.org/help-launch-the-skillsusa-hope-fund/.)
The Pursuit of Happiness
Happy endings are always a work in progress, but Maxcy is well on his way. He’s currently working for Goodman Manufacturing, a Houston-based company operating as an independent subsidiary of Daikin Group, the world’s largest manufacturer of heating, ventilation and air conditioning products. “I am the youngest maintenance electrician to ever work at Goodman,” Maxcy says proudly.
“I wouldn’t have my job today if it weren’t for SkillsUSA,” he adds. “In my interview with Goodman, the manager had put down on the table the ‘SkillsUSA Champions’ magazine I was featured in, so I can say that with absolute certainty. SkillsUSA provided me with the opportunity to prove that my skills are superior, a chance to gain substantial experience, showcase skills, analyze and evaluate outcomes and uncover personal aptitude.”
With so many new pathways now open to him (none of which include living in a truck), Maxcy has chosen to focus on what he once deemed a weakness in his diesel-related skill set — electrical work — to ultimately “make me a better asset.” His long-term goal, however, remains unchanged. “I want to become a teacher,” he affirms, “so that I can help train and guide students into successful careers using SkillsUSA, the same way that my instructor, Mr. Warren, did for me and all his students. I want to be able to give back and make a difference in the lives of as many students as I can.”
Through sharing his story so openly, so bravely, Maxcy has already started making that difference through the SkillsUSA Hope Fund that his story inspired. Despite immense challenges and pain — and against all odds — Maxcy has never relinquished his grip on that American dream he still claims to be living, a dream he hopes he can continue to inspire others to adopt as their own.
“With the right amount of willpower and belief in yourself, nothing is impossible,” Maxcy says from experience. “You have the power to not let these troubling times bring you down. Use these tough times and experiences to motivate you. Strive to get back up, because only you can limit yourself.”