Jennifer Marie Lopez was supposed to intern for fashion giant Betsey Johnson, but life got in the way. Lopez scored the internship offer through a technical school that folded before her first day.

“She’s my idol to design with because she does happy-looking patterns, and she’s really expressive,” Lopez, 35, said from her New Haven apartment.

That brush with a longtime dream typifies the kind of missed opportunities that Lopez has seen over and over. She attempted to enroll at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan after her time at technical school, but high costs and personal responsibilities drove her out. Fashion design ultimately became a dream deferred; Lopez focused on making money as a nurse and security guard, taking care of her four sons and putting her family ahead as best as she could.

But a shot at the career she always wanted is finally in reach, and this time, it’s on her terms.