Paths 2 Promise Helps Two Harlan County Natives Reach Their Goals in Life, Career

Everyday, people do things thinking it will bring them closer to achieving their goals. Whether in life, work, or any other avenue, goals can be motivators to better ones life—but sometimes motivation isn’t enough. A newer program, Paths 2 Promise (P2P), has emerged to try to help combat some of the factors that might hinder some Eastern Kentuckians from reaching their goals.

Harlan Countian Christy Wilkinson says she had one consistent goal she kept in mind for a number of years: getting her GED and going to college to become a nurse.

“That’s been my goal, my passion, my desire,” Wilkinson says as she sits in the conference room of the Harlan Community Action Agency, swiveling gently back and forth in her chair.

The mother of three dropped out of high school at the age of 16 when she became pregnant with her first child. Though her life completely changed then, Wilkinson says she never let go of her dream of becoming a nurse—a dream that would now require taking an extra step to finish her high school education.

Wilkinson says it wasn’t necessarily harder to find a job without a high school diploma; it was just harder to find the job she longed for.

“I really didn’t have any trouble getting a job without my GED,” she admits. “They were just really basic jobs, not jobs you would really want to get. I would want to work somewhere like a hospital or somewhere like that. You can’t work at a hospital or somewhere like that unless you have a GED or a high school diploma.”

For years, Wilkinson tried to get her GED on her own, but was unable to complete the tests after getting discouraged time after time.

“I just felt like I couldn’t do it, like I was never going to succeed,” she says. “It was like every time I went I felt like I was never good enough to succeed in it—until this last time.”

“This last time” Wilkinson was introduced to and qualified for the new P2P program when she came to enroll in GED classes at the Harlan County Kentucky Adult Education center in 2016.

“I’ll never forget because they were like yay, I’m so excited for you. This is the best program you could ever be in,” Wilkinson says with a smile.

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 Paths 2 Promise 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).

“You get (help with) travel, you get the child care, and just everything else that it offers,” Wilkinson says of P2P. “If you start a job and you need clothes or uniforms for your work, they help you buy those. If you needed your car fixed, they’ve opened that up to where they can help you get you car fixed.”

“To have that support and that system that you need from this program to know that you’re going to be able to do anything that you want to do–there’s just so many things that they’re offering from the P2P program,” she adds.

Within six months, Wilkinson was able to pass her GED for the first time ever, while working at her work placement as an aide at a local HeadStart childcare program. Now, she is well on her way to becoming a certified nurse.

“I earned a degree, which is my GED. That was the number one goal for me, and now I’m going to become a nurse,” Wilkinson says, with tears in her eyes.

Cameron Thomas, of Harlan County, says he was also lucky enough to qualify for the P2P program in the spring of 2017.

“I was working in the mines, and everybody knows all the mines around here shut down. There wasn’t much work,” Thomas says, standing in the offices of the Harlan Community Action Agency.

Thomas says he worked in the mines for nearly a decade after he’d turned 18, and so was familiar with the harsh reality that comes with the frequent layoffs and shut downs of mining operations.

During his latest period of layoffs, Thomas says he was working as a custodian for a local beauty shop when the owners told him about P2P. He went to the Harlan CAA and learned he qualified for the program shortly after finding out about it.

“In a month and a half I had my GED, which I was proud of getting my GED, that’s something I’ve always wanted,” Thomas says with a smile.

Thomas is currently working towards a degree at the Southeast Community and Technical College while he works at the Harlan CAA, filling in where he’s needed.

“I ride a bike three and a half miles to the college and three and a half miles back from here every day,” Thomas says. “If people aren’t doing it it’s because they’re too lazy and they don’t want to, they give every opportunity through the Paths 2 Promise program so if I can do it riding a bike then people with cars can do it.”

Wilkinson and Thomas agree that P2P has changed their lives dramatically and for the better—something they can’t seem to thank the program for enough.

“The Paths 2 Promise program is the best program that I think has ever been,” Thomas says. “I’ve always wanted to get my education and I get paid to get my education with a job. I’d recommend it to anybody.”

Wilkinson admits that without P2P she would likely still be a stay-at-home mom with no degree and no likelihood of ever being able to pursue a career in nursing.

“It’s helped me accomplish so much in my life, and, without it, I would have never become what I am today,” she says, unable to hold back the tears filling her eyes. “I will become a nurse, and I wouldn’t have become that without the help of all of these people with this program helping me.”

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

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, and