After working nearly two decades in and around the medical field, Magoffin Countian Susan Leedy-Howard knew the direction she wanted her career to go in—the only problem was giving it the push it needed to get there.
“I’ve always wanted to go into nursing, I just didn’t really have, I guess, the time and the focus,” Leedy-Howard explains as she sits in the conference room of the Big Sandy Community Action Program (BSCAP) office in Salyersville, Ky.
Unfortunately, like many others, Leedy-Howard faced more obstacles than just lacking focus and time. Having graduated from Morehead State University in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in University Studies, she was unable to receive any federal financial aid if she wanted to go back to school for a different degree and couldn’t afford it on her own.
“My goal was to use [my degree] to try to get a job as a drug rep for pharmaceutical companies, but those jobs just aren’t available here in Eastern Kentucky,” she says, shaking her head.
After graduation, Leedy-Howard decided to go back to her previous profession as a receptionist at a doctor’s office to help her family make ends meet.
“I had worked at two different doctor’s offices. One office I worked there for 10 years as a receptionist, the next office that I worked at, after school, I was there for eight years. I just kind of got burnt out on the reception work, and I knew I want to be hands-on with the patients,” she says.
As Leedy-Howard stepped into another new position, working part-time at a local daycare in the summer of 2017, her father-in-law told her about a friend of his who worked with a program—BSCAP—that may be able to assist her with paying for school.
“He was friends with (expert career advisor) Mae Shurow, and he had just let me know that they may have been able to help me and what the program was about and what they offered,” she explains.
A partner in the Kentucky Career Center JobSight network of workforce centers, the Big Sandy Community Action Program provides Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) services in Floyd, Johnson, Magoffin, Martin, and Pike counties, under contract with the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, Inc. (EKCEP). Those services include programs for adults, dislocated workers, and for in-school and out-of-school youth who may need assistance honing skills such as résumé building or networking with local employers, or who need assistance being retrained or going to school.
“I called and made an appointment,” Leedy-Howard says, adding that her first meeting with Shurow was easy and simple. “We did the online aptitude test just to see what my score would be, and it actually placed me in the nursing field. Then we just made a follow-up appointment and just went from there.”
Leedy-Howard provided proof that she was denied financial aid, which Shurow says was one of the major factors in her being eligible for the program.
“We were able to provide aid to her because, even though she had a bachelor’s degree, she was unable to find sustainable employment within that field,” Shurow says. “That with the fact that she couldn’t get financial aid made her eligible for assistance or job training or whatever would get her into the workforce.”
Shurow helped Leedy-Howard apply for her local community college’s nursing program, and continued to provide assistance even after the semester started in August 2017.
“Mae (Shurow) helped with building my résumé, we worked on that together, and also just interview skills for any jobs I would be applying for in the future,” Leedy-Howard explains.
With the financial support from BSCAP, Leedy-Howard was able to pay for her tuition as well as her books, supplies, and uniforms that she needed for her classes. By December 2018, she was an official nursing program graduate and was focusing on studying for her board exam so she could dive into the job market.
While studying for her boards, which were set for February, Leedy-Howard heard that a local hospital, Paul B. Hall Regional Medical Center in Paintsville, Ky., was looking to hire nurses. Though she was not technically a nurse yet, she decided to throw caution to the wind and applied for a position there.
“I went online and put in my application, submitted my résumé, and that was actually the first job that I applied for and went for the interview and got the job,” she says, beaming.
Leedy-Howard passed her board exams with flying colors and was able to begin working at Paul B. Hall in April 2019 as an LPN.
“If I hadn’t have had the assistance through the Big Sandy program and the help with Mae (Shurow), I probably wouldn’t have followed through (with going back to school). I could have because I wanted to strive for that, that was my goal, but I had already been in debt when I went to Morehead, and that’s just something I didn’t want to hinder my family with,” Leedy-Howard says. “Without the program and just financially, I don’t think I could have done it.”
Life is much more stable now for Leedy-Howard and her family thanks to her new career.
“I’m able to buy and provide the extra things that we needed because I was always real strict with our cash flow, just only bought the necessities,” she explains. “We’re able to take little trips and do more things with my son.”
Leedy-Howard says she’s already spoken with multiple people about the resources at BSCAP and how anyone who is in need should reach out to them to see how they can help.
“I’ve actually shared with a few people about the program, about Mae (Shurow) and the other staff members, how friendly they are. You do have to put in time and effort, you do have to come up here, you do have to follow up with your appointments, but it is well worth it,” she says, a smile spreading across her face.
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 and operates the Kentucky Career Center JobSight network of workforce centers, which provide access to more than a dozen state and federal programs that offer employment and training assistance for jobseekers and employers all under one roof. Learn more about us at http://www.ekcep.org, http://www.jobsight.org and http://www.facebook.com/ekcep.