SILER CITY –March 23, 2008, started as just another day for Karen Frazier, of Chatham County. She got up in the morning and went to her job at the Pilgrim's Pride chicken processing plant in Siler City, where she had worked for 20 years.
That day, she and the remainder of the plant's employees got the news: They would be out of a job in just 60 days.
“The first thought that came to my mind was, 'What am I going to do now?’” she said. “I had a truck payment, all kinds of other bills.”
Frazier said she was lucky that the company's Human Resources Department worked to help the soon-to-be-ex-employees transition into whatever their next step would be. At a job fair organized for the Pilgrim's Pride employees, Frazier met Edith Edmond, then head of Lee County's Employment Security Commission. Edmond told her that displaced employees could return to school under the Workforce Investment Act program.
The WIA provides funding and counseling to dislocated workers, enabling them to gain new career skills through community college courses and to reenter the workforce. Locally, it is run by the Triangle South Workforce Development Board, which is funded by the federal government and administered by Central Carolina Community College for Lee, Chatham, Harnett, and Sampson counties.
“I was scared at first because I didn't think I could succeed in school,” Frazier said.
Still, she persevered, eventually making contact – not only for herself, but also for several of her colleagues who had also lost jobs – with Leon Jackson, a Workforce Investment Act caseworker in the Lee County ESC office.
Jackson asked the workers what they wanted to study and whether they were trying to get a degree. Frazier decided she wanted to enroll at Central Carolina Community College to earn an associate degree in medical office administration.
“We had to take a test at the Civic Center before starting school and I was scared,” she said. “But after we took the test, we were able to get the paperwork started for school.”
With that done, Frazier started school five months to the day from that morning in March when her life changed forever.
Her educational journey wasn’t without its difficulties. Frazier’s unemployment benefits ran out in February 2011 – about three months before she was to graduate. Without any income, it became difficult to continue attending classes and keeping up with the bills.
“I kept with it, though. I told myself I’d come too far to quit now,” she said.
Frazier also saw her teenage daughter graduate from high school and get accepted to a state university – which came at no small expense. She also dealt with having no medical insurance for three years.
“I took ibuprofen for anything that hurt and just prayed that something more serious didn’t come along,” she said.
Frazier graduated from CCCC on May 17 with her Associate of Applied Science in Medical Office Administration. Now, she has her degree, as well as a job at the Siler City Community Health Center.
“I was so blessed to get a job right here in Siler City,” she said, adding that she’s already laying the groundwork for getting a bachelor’s degree through online coursework.
“I’m glad I went back to school,” she said. “I’d recommend it to anyone.”
For more information about the Triangle South Workforce Development Board and its programs, visit www.trianglesouthworkforce.com
. For more information about Central Carolina Community College, visit www.cccc.edu