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Baylee Thorne, first CCCC YouthBuild graduate, looks toward promising new life

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Click to enlarge,  Baylee Thorne is the first-ever graduate of the Central Carolina Community College YouthBuild program.

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Baylee Thorne is the first-ever graduate of the Central Carolina Community College YouthBuild program. ... (more)

10.08.2020College & CommunityCollege GeneralStudents/Graduates

SANFORD - It was a remarkable moment for Baylee Thorne when she stepped onto a virtual podium in August to deliver her convocation speech at Central Carolina Community College.

Not only because she had arrived less than one year earlier as a shy, timid 19-year-old who never would have considered giving the public address she was about to begin. Or because she stood in front of faculty and staff as CCCC's first-ever graduate of YouthBuild, an educational program helping young people who dropped out of high school continue their education and find rewarding employment. It was most remarkable because of all the barriers she overcame to get there.

"My journey with the YouthBuild program began in 2019, when my family and I found ourselves homeless and living in a motel," Thorne said, beginning her convocation speech. "My sister saw a YouthBuild flier and told me she had applied for the program. She wanted me to apply as well, so I did." Not too long after that fairly casual decision, Thorne was accepted into the program and deep into a busy week of orientation. She then dove right into GED classes, which she finished just six weeks later, learning math better than she ever had before. "They have really good teachers," she says, giving some well-deserved credit to the faculty while humbly downplaying her own determination to succeed. "I couldn't have done it without those teachers."

She performed community service with Habitat for Humanity, a required component of YouthBuild. She finished all of her classes to complete the nursing certificate. And she passed the state certification exam -- in the middle of a global pandemic. Two years after dropping out of high school, she was walking into a promising new life.

Thorne credits YouthBuild for giving her the opportunity. The federally funded educational program is designed for people who dropped out of school and have faced significant barriers to completing their education, challenges like coming from a low-income family, being involved in the criminal justice system or having a disability. Participants earn their high school equivalency credential and an industry-recognized certificate in either construction, HVAC or nursing, while pursuing leadership opportunities and giving back by completing 100 hours of community service.

Program Director Lindsay Tipton says the value of YouthBuild goes well beyond the free classes and stipends students receive to pay for practical expenses like daycare and transportation costs. It provides the kind of personal relationships and support that are so critical for success in college -- for everyone, but especially students who haven't exactly enjoyed a smooth ride in life.

Tipton still remembers that polite but timid student who asked during her application interview if she could have Tipton as her advisor just so she wouldn't have to meet someone new. "To see how far she's come now is just huge," Tipton says. "It's amazing how much she's accomplished."

As she looks back, what Thorne appreciates most are the overall experience and caring people who are now good friends. "Honestly, it really changed everything about my life," she says. "A year ago, I didn't know what the next step was at all. I didn't have a plan. I didn't know what I was going to do with my life. And now, I have a direction and several different options. If one doesn't work out, I can try something else. And I have support: a lot of people, mentors and the advice they have given me."

While Thorne enjoys her full-time work, nursing classes have kindled an appetite for more. In fact, she's still in school, taking the prerequisites she needs before applying to study medical sonography at CCCC in an associate degree program that teaches students to operate ultrasound imaging equipment used for medical diagnosis and surgery.

"I was real nervous to be honest with you," Thorne says, looking back on her big moment at the virtual convocation. "If I had to do it in front of everybody, it might have been difficult. It was my nerves at the beginning, but everyone was commenting online, telling me how well I did." Most people were probably commenting about the speech. But knowing all of the challenges she faced and everything she has achieved, they could just as well have been commenting on the character and determination that got her onto the podium.

To learn more about the CCCC YouthBuild program, visit