For as long as she can remember, Pike Countian Jackie Blackburn has always known what she wanted to do with her life—help others. However, getting to a place in her life where she didn’t need help herself was the biggest hurdle in getting to where she knew she belonged.
Sitting in her office at the Big Sandy Community Action Program in Pike County, it’s clear from the look on her face that Blackburn is ecstatic to now hold the title of career advisor, especially, she says, after her own career advisor helped her achieve the career she has now.
“It’s really nice to be able to help people and get them to where they never thought they could be,” Blackburn says of her career advisor position, adding that she can relate to her clients as it feels like she grew up in their shoes.
Blackburn explains that coming from a low-income, single parent home made life a little harder for her and her siblings, especially when the end of her high school career drew nearer and the costs of being a high school graduate began to mount.
“Mom always made sure we knew we were going to go to college, that’s one thing that my mom’s always been really big on is that we would go to college,” she reminisces. “No matter how many times you say you’re going to go to college, it’s different than actually getting there.”
Knowing that she would need to work harder than many of her classmates to ensure her future got off without a hitch, Blackburn says she decided to buckle down and get really serious about school and getting involved in extra curricular activities during her junior year in 2008.
“My family resource coordinator, she hooked me up with Jenny Hampton, and she was my career advisor. She really helped us with a lot of different things,” she says.
Hampton is a career advisor who works with students in the in-school youth program through the Big Sandy Community Action Program. 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 for new, better jobs and careers. In addition to assistance to dislocated or underemployed adult workers, the agency also provides workforce services to in-school and out-of-school youth and area employers.
As part of the in-school youth program, Blackburn participated in soft skills training to prepare her for college and the job market. The program also provided work experience opportunities for students to get a taste of what working would be like once they had graduated.
“We learned a lot of job skills, toured a lot of colleges, and sometimes we toured actual employment places, as well,” she says. “Jenny was a really great part of getting me to where I am today just because she helped me figure out what college to go to, she helped me understand the college application process.”
Hampton’s help didn’t stop there, Blackburn explains. When graduation, housing, and application fees arose that she had no idea would be coming up and no way to pay for, Blackburn says Hampton and the staff at Big Sandy CAP stepped in to help her find a way to make sure she would get into the college she wanted to.
“It could have been really easy for me in high school to have been like, I’m just not going to do my applications. I see that a lot when I work with my in-school youth now,” she says.
After high school graduation and two years in the in-school youth program, Blackburn went on to Morehead State University, where she graduated with a degree in sociology. She says she wanted to be able to do the same work that her career advisor had done with her.
“She’s (Hampton) stayed in contact with me all through life pretty much. Even when I got out of college, Jenny was the one that helped me get my first job in this field, and she told me about this job that I have now,” Blackburn says.
Now, Blackburn works with in-school and out-of-school youth and adults that come into her office for help with career advising.
“Seeing their faces when you get to tell them they got the jobs, when a client comes in and tells me they’ve been able to get the job that they’ve been looking for—it’s an amazing feeling, and you know you’ve been able to help them a little bit in that,” she says. “You never realize what little things can really help you in looking for a job.”
Thinking back on her life before she became a part of the programs at Big Sandy CAP, Blackburn says, with tears filling her eyes, she knows she wouldn’t be near to where she is in life without Big Sandy or her career advisor.
“I definitely never would have gotten into college because of all of those fees that go along with it,” she says. “I would have definitely been a different person in a different place for sure.”
When asked what advice she would give to someone questioning what steps to take if they aren’t happy with their current job situation or don’t know what to do, Blackburn says to just come and see her.
“Take that step to come out and talk to a career advisor. If you’re not happy where you are, we can help you take that step to get you to where you are happy,” she says, smiling.
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.organd http://www.facebook.com/ekcep.