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CCCC, Salvation Army partnership proves beneficial

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Click to enlarge,  Melissa Nieto is the first GED graduate in a new partnership between Central Carolina Community College and The Salvation Army.

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Melissa Nieto is the first GED graduate in a new partnership between Central Carolina Community College ... (more)

07.13.2017College & CommunityCollege General

SANFORD - After completing her Mathematical Reasoning test, the final step in a long journey toward her GED, Melissa Nieto took one last look at the computer screen. She hit the submit button. And waited.

She thought about having to leave high school in the 10th grade and the four children who inspired her to finish the education she began two decades earlier. As Melissa recalls that time in her life, she describes dropping out of school to have her first child, a son who is now a 21-year-old adult. She talks lovingly about her supportive husband, 15-year-old daughter and two younger sons -- one 13, the other 5. In fact, it was the youngest heading off to pre-K that gave her space to pursue the high school equivalency she always wanted to achieve.

"I decided to do this while my last one was in pre-K and nothing was holding me back from doing it," she says, recounting the decision that led her to this moment. "My kids always came first, so now that he was in pre-K, nothing was holding me back."

Except, perhaps, for the results of that final test. It seemed like forever until the computer screen blinked and rendered the verdict: She passed. After seven months of classes, four GED subject tests and plenty of help from a partnership between The Salvation Army and Central Carolina Community College, Melissa had her high school equivalency credential and all sorts of new options in life.

"I knew after about 10 minutes and I started crying," Melissa says. "I was relieved and very happy. It was a big accomplishment for me to show my kids that it can be done."

The GED Partnership

Melissa is the first GED graduate in a new partnership between Central Carolina Community College and The Salvation Army, one of many cooperative arrangements the college maintains. GED classes also are offered in Lee County through partnerships with LCI Inc., Coty and Jonesboro United Methodist Church-El Refugio, with still more being developed. All of the classes are free and designed to make the high-school equivalency credential more accessible to students.

Under the Salvation Army partnership where Melissa began her journey, CCCC provides the instructor and arranges for free student transportation through COLTS, the County of Lee Transit System. For their part, The Salvation Army provides classroom space and pays the $20 fee for students to take each of the required GED tests in mathematical reasoning, science, social studies and reasoning through language arts.

Chris Kelley, director of The Salvation Army's local service center, says the goal is to remove any barrier that stands between students and their high school equivalency. In fact, his ministry is even working to provide child care for those who attend classes two days a week at the Mann Center in downtown Sanford.

There's no typical student. Some are recent high school dropouts who quickly realized how limited their options are without a high school education. Others, like 39-year-old Melissa, are returning to school after taking care of other obligations. No matter how students arrive, Kelley says, the goal is to help them succeed.

"We know that employment and work are important, but it's very hard to find work without a GED or high school diploma," Kelley explains. "If we can help people that way, it makes them more employable and opens up more opportunities for them, whether it's a job or pursuing more education."

A Brighter Future

There's no doubt that people are better off with a high school diploma or GED credential, especially in a competitive economy. Last year, U.S. workers with a high school diploma earned almost $10,000 more per year than those with less education, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, and their unemployment rate was 2.2 percentage points lower.

Dawn Michelle Tucker, CCCC's Dean of College and Career Readiness, who administers the High School Equivalency program, said she just received a call from one frustrated adult who will be enrolling in GED classes. He wanted to work, but couldn't land a job without some high school credential. Based on the labor statistics, that decision should help him get ahead.

"One of the greatest rewards for our team is learning that our graduates have found success," Tucker says. "Some have obtained a job or maybe they've received a raise or promotion. Others have decided to continue their education by pursuing a certification or degree. All of these opportunities were possible because they now have a high school credential."

But, as critical as jobs and college are, there could be something even more important at stake: the personal fulfillment people experience after completing their high school education.

Melissa said that before all of her children were in school, she tried several times to finish. But even with her family providing quiet motivation, something always got in the way. Having her life shift just a bit and organizations like The Salvation Army and CCCC step in to help clear the path made the difference.

"When I had my kids home and was pregnant I would go and try to get my GED, but there was always something where I couldn't finish it, so I stopped trying to do it," Melissa says. "What motivated me is that my oldest one graduated and I told him that I needed to go graduate and show my younger children that it's important to finish school.

"They were happy. They were, like, you finally did it."

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