Floyd Countian Chavella Kelly has always had big plans for her life. Whether it was furthering her education or making sure she got into the exact career she had always dreamed of, Kelly says she’s always known what she wanted to do.
However, when a few surprises created speed bumps on the journey to her goals, Kelly found herself turning to the Big Sandy Area Community Action Program in Prestonsburg for help to get back on track to her dream career.
Kelly was a full-time stay-at-home mom in June 2016 when she first heard about the services offered at her local Community Action office.
Big Sandy CAP provides Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) career advising services in Magoffin, Johnson, Martin, Floyd, and Pike counties under contract with the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, Inc. (EKCEP). The services help people re-enter the workforce or upskill to new, better jobs and careers. In addition to assistance to dislocated or underemployed adult workers, the agency also provides workforce services to at-risk youth and area employers.
“I always wanted to be in the medical field,” Kelly says as she sits in an office chair in the conference room of Big Sandy CAP’s Prestonsburg office. “I was a CNA (certified nursing aid) straight out of high school, and then I got pregnant with my little girl and stayed home with her.”
After taking two years off from school, Kelly, who has always dreamed of being a trauma nurse in an emergency room, decided it was time to jump back in the driver’s seat and finish her degree. She re-enrolled into classes and applied to the nursing program at the Big Sandy Community and Technical College (BSCTC) in the summer of 2016.
It was shortly after she finished re-enrolling that Kelly heard from a friend that her local Community Action office might be able to help her pay for tuition.
“A friend of mine had done it through the Paintsville office, so she told me to try to contact this office,” Kelly explains, gesturing to the office around her. “I called as soon as my friend told me about it, and then I met with Trina (Yeary) about it.”
“It usually takes a long time when you’re trying to get in with programs, I mean, even with financial aid at school it takes forever,” Kelly adds as she laughs. “This was done and ready whenever I started school in August, so within a month, and all I had to do was set up an appointment with Trina, and then I gave her my school schedule and that was it.”
An expert career advisor at Big Sandy CAP’s Prestonsburg office, Trina Yeary works every day to help those in her region find gainful employment through job searches, retraining, or, as in Kelly’s case, working toward a college degree.
“I think school for anybody in the nursing program would be hard, but the obstacles that Chavella has faced this semester—I think it’s amazing what she’s done,” Yeary says, a look of admiration spreading across her face as she shakes her head.
Kelly finished up her first semester in the BSCTC nursing program in December 2016. That same month, she also received some life-changing news.
“I was diagnosed with cancer in December,” Kelly says as her voice hitches and tears roll down her face.
“I don’t usually get emotional when I talk about it,” she continues, taking a breath. “I had surgery in January, right after I started the second semester, but I went straight back. I was out for two weeks, and then I went straight back.”
Yeary says she was shocked to learn about Kelly’s diagnosis, and tried to keep up with her as much as she could in and out of the office.
“If she had come to me and said, hey, I can’t go to school this semester, I mean, that’s kind of what I expected not just from her as a person but from anybody. She never once mentioned giving up,” Yeary says. “I follow her on Facebook, and she has come so far. A lot of people couldn’t pass the nursing program if that’s all they had going on, and she managed to pass the semester despite all of the odds.”
Kelly adds that she has had to undergo radiation treatments, the first of which was in the middle of her second semester.
“I had extremely supportive staff, our professors. We were able to record their lectures to where I didn’t really miss anything. I was allowed to make up everything,” she says. “The type of cancer I have is extremely curable, so I stayed extremely optimistic the whole time, even now.”
Her first year in the nursing program finished up in May 2017, and even after overcoming her personal battles, Kelly maintains that she wouldn’t be where she is without the support she received from Big Sandy CAP.
“I couldn’t have done this on my own. I work, but I still wouldn’t have made enough money to pay for it,” Kelly says.
Besides financial assistance, Kelly says the emotional and mental support she’s received from Yeary and the staff at Big Sandy CAP have been something that’s not only helped her get through the last year, but were also things she never really expected to get from the staff when she first made that call to talk to Yeary.
“I can talk to Trina about anything,” Kelly says. “Trina makes sure everything’s done and smooth with school. That way, if I forget to turn in something, Trina’s like, I need this.”
Yeary adds that those prospective clients who might be weary of coming into Big Sandy CAP because they don’t expect a personal experience have nothing to fear.
“It’s not like coming into an office and just doing paperwork and stuff—from the very beginning it’s not like that. I think we really take the time to get to know people and to know what they want to do,” she says. “We try to make it all about them, and I think we really care about our people—that’s just who we are as career advisors.”
Having a resource like Community Action is beneficial to the area, Kelly explains, because there aren’t a lot of available jobs in the region.
“I’ve actually told a few people about the programs that need it,” Kelly says.
Yeary adds that her door is always open to anyone needing assistance.
“Make that first step and make that appointment,” she says. “Come in, and I think it’ll definitely be worthwhile.”
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.