Stepping into the Jackson County Adult Learning Center on Aug. 12, the pride, hope, and joy that filled the room was almost tangible.
It all centered around a young lady, 25-year-old Amber Smith whose accomplishments in the last two years have changed her life.
Those accomplishments have been noticed. Smith has been chosen as the 2020 West Virginia Adult Education Association, Inc. Adult Education Student of the Year. Normally, the award would be presented at a statewide conference but due to the health pandemic, the ceremony was on a local level.
Smith earned her High School Equivalency (HSE) in January of this year. As with most people, achieving that milestone opened up doors for her. In Smith’s case, those doors were in the same building where she achieved her degree.
As of July 27, Smith became a full-time career specialist with the Human Resource Development Foundation through Workforce West Virginia.
“When Amber first came to the adult education program, I knew she was someone special,” Jackson County Adult Learning Center instructor Carla Mullins said. “She came 15 minutes early and there was just a determination in her that I knew she was up for the challenge.”
Mid-Ohio Valley Adult Education
Jackson County Adult Learning Center, Ripley WorkForce
Adult Education offers for free:
• WV High School Equivalency preparation
• Resume assistance
• Basic computer skills
• College preparation
• English language acquisition
• FAFSA assistance
• Microsoft Office Specialist certifications
• Quickbooks certification
• Computer Essentials certification
• More services available
It wasn’t easy. Balancing classes and studying was often difficult while she was also raising her two daughters, Izabella and Iris.
“Sometimes I have to admit, coming to the learning center was my quiet place,” Smith said with a smile. “Every time I’d get discouraged or struggle, I’d say, ‘No, Amber, you’ve got to do this.’”
The HSE requires passage of tests in math, science, social studies, reading, and writing. The toughest one for Smith was math.
“Carla said it gets all of her students,” Smith said laughing. “And it sure got me. I told Carla that I needed Bill.”
She credits Bill Lutz with helping her make it through. Lutz who is a substitute adult education teacher congratulated Smith by way of video.
“I’m really happy for you,” he said. “You saw what you wanted to do and did it. You had to have discipline and the right attitude. And you had both.”
Smith has had to draw from her determination to get to where she is today.
Her parents divorced when she was five, so she ended up moving from Ohio to Ripley, and being raised by her grandmother in a home that had 13 other children. In 2013, her father became terminally ill and required care. Smith dropped out of high school to provide that for him. Two years after he passed away, she moved back to West Virginia.
“I don’t regret what I did for my dad,” Smith said. “Of course, I don’t recommend dropping out of school. But I’m so thankful there is a second chance provided by the adult education center.”
Mullins said that her student also earned other certifications at the same time as she was working on her HSE. Those included the West Virginia Welcome certification, FDIC Money Smart, CPR/First Aid/ADD, digital literacy, goal setting, customer service part one, and achievement for IPads and 3-D printing.
In her new job as career specialist, Smith will be assisting those who come to WorkForce to find their path, whether it be college or training with technical schools. This will lead to helping her clients with employment.
The desire and ability to help others are two of Smith’s attributes that impressed Mullins.
“When she saw another student struggling, she helped them,” Mullins recalled. “In fact, last November Amber became my assistant. She proved such a help that it was clear she would be an excellent person to work with those coming to WorkForce.”
Smith is rightfully proud of where she is in her life right now.
“I’ve been through a lot but I’ve overcome all my obstacles,” she said. “My job now gives me a platform to help. I’ve been where a lot of these people are.”
As for future plans, Smith has her eye on a bachelor’s degree in business with a focus on human resources.
“I’ll get there,” she said. “I know I won’t stop because I want a good life for me and my family.”