Paths 2 Promise Gives Knox Countian Amber Bays New Life After Overcoming Dark Past

Knox Countian Amber Bays sits in the KCEOC Community Action offices in Barbourville dressed professionally in slacks and a flowered blouse. A small grin slowly spreads across her face.

“Because of my past, I never dreamed I would be in the position I’m in today. To be able to have the things I have—not just material things, but the sense of accomplishment,” Bays says, her eyes lighting up.

As a medical coding specialist, Bays says she is able to work to support herself and live the life that she thought she’d never have.

“I wouldn’t be where I am without Paths 2 Promise,” she adds.

Paths 2 Promise (P2P) is a pilot project that teams up local and state agencies to help increase employment among residents who receive benefits through the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) in Kentucky’s Promise Zone counties, which include Bell, Harlan, Clay, Letcher, Leslie, Perry, Knox, and Whitley counties. Partners and employers coordinate to help educate and skill up participants through work-based learning opportunities, internships, and on-the-job training (OJT), as well as educational and training programs.

Partners in the P2P pilot project include the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, Inc. (EKCEP), the Kentucky Department for Community Based Services (DCBS), the Kentucky Department of Workforce Investment branded as the Kentucky Career Centers (KCC), Kentucky Adult Education (KYAE), and the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS).

Though Bays was introduced to the project in the fall of 2016, the story of her path to finding that life-changer began in 2015.

“Before I’d heard about Paths 2 Promise, I’d actually been into some trouble,” she explains.

Facing a personal crisis with addiction, Bays didn’t know how to move her life forward.

“I didn’t have anywhere to live. It was very chaotic,” she says, her eyes wandering as she revisits memories of that time. “It’s hard to describe unless you’ve been there. I didn’t like life—I didn’t want to live at that time.”

What saved her life, Bays says, was something many would consider life ruining. In 2015 Bays was arrested, and was enrolled in the local Drug Court by a judge. According to the National Institute of Justice, Drug Courts “are specialized court docket programs that target criminal defendants and offenders, juvenile offenders, and parents with pending child welfare cases who have alcohol and other drug dependency problems.”

With nearly a full year of Drug Court under her belt, Bays says her life dramatically improved thanks to the program—but by the fall of 2016, there would be even more changes to come. P2P Coordinator Candace Smith visited Bays’ Drug Court meeting to tell them about her program.

“At first I thought it was too good to be true, and I was kind of skeptical about it, and then I came over here (KCEOC) and talked to Candace more about it,” Bays explains. “She told me it was a great opportunity to be able to build a career for yourself, and if she could have done it years ago, then she would have done it.”

Bays adds that her meeting with Smith flipped a switch in her and helped her decide to pursue a place in the project.

“I wanted to do something with my life,” she says.

The process to be enrolled was fairly quick and simple, Bays says. A visit to the Knox County Adult Education office after her talk with Smith and a few questions later, she was processed and ready to start.

Bays was enrolled in classes at her local community college for medical coding and paired as an intern with a medical coding company.

“I got assistance with transportation as well as clothing to be able to get business-type clothing. They assisted me with (paying for) some of my books through the college that I needed and didn’t have enough financial aid for,” she explains. “The programs made that possible for me.”

Bays graduated Drug Court in May 2017, and by January of the next year, she was a college graduate with a full-time medical coding career.

“It’s been wonderful. I couldn’t ask for a better blessing in my life,” she says. “There aren’t many opportunities around here, especially for people who have not the greatest pasts . . . To be able to have this opportunity around here for people who really wanted it—it’s great!”

Enrollment for the P2P project ends August 31, 2018. If you have any questions regarding the program or how you can be enrolled, contact your local Kentucky Career Center at one of the following locations:

  • Bell or Whitley Co. - Martha Williams, 606-337-3044, ex 207
  • Clay County - Sherry Marcum, 606-598-5127, ex 261
  • Harlan County - Jill Blevins, 606-573-5330, ex 238
  • Knox County - Candace Smith, 606-546-2639, ex 16
  • Perry, Leslie, or Letcher County - Alison Brown, 606-436-3161, ex 5016

Potential participants can also contact Kentucky Adult Education centers in Bell, Harlan, Clay, Letcher, Perry, Leslie, and Whitley counties, or a Paths 2 Promise Success Coach at Hazard Community and Technical College, Southeast Community and Technical College, or Somerset Community and Technical College.  To find out more information, register online at www.paths2promise.com.

The Paths 2 Promise pilot study is a SNAP and Employment & Training national research project designed to discover what helps unemployed and low-wage working SNAP recipients increase their earnings and advance in the workplace. Results of the study will be used to help shape future employment and training programs locally and nationally.

This project has been funded at least in part with Federal funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  The contents of this publication do not necessarily reflect the view or policies of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. USDA is an equal opportunity employer and provider.

EKCEP, a nonprofit workforce development agency headquartered in Hazard, Ky., serves the citizens of 23 Appalachian coalfield counties. The agency provides an array of workforce development services, administers the Hiring Our Miners Everyday (H.O.M.E.) program for dislocated coal miners and their spouses, and is the White House-designated lead organization for the federal TechHire designation for Eastern Kentucky. Learn more about us at http://www.ekcep.org, http://www.jobsight.org and http://www.facebook.com/ekcep.