From jobless to dream job: one woman’s journey

At the beginning of 1995, Shirley Wells was working as a garment inspector at Sara Lee Knit Products in Martinsville—a job she had held for 14 years. Later that year everything changed when the company let go several of its employees.
Sara Lee Knit Products was her first job out of high school. It wasn’t what she planned to do with her life, but after she dropped out of college it was what paid the bills.
“I tried college when I first graduated high school. I made it through one year because I had promised my mother I would try for a year.” Fourteen years later, without a college degree in a town overflowing with unemployed factory workers, her options were limited. When Wells learned that she was eligible for Trade Act Assistance, federal money displaced factory workers could use to go back to school, she quickly realized that giving college another try was her best option.
“I was terrified as an older student out of school for so many years,” Wells remembered. For her second venture into academia, she decided not to attend a large university far from home. That made all the difference. “My fears were put to rest within the first semester. The staff and faculty at PHCC got to know me personally and were very helpful and reassuring.”
Although going back to school after 14 years was not easy, Wells took it one step at a time. First, she got her certification in early childhood education. Then, she got her associate degree. Finally feeling that anything was possible, Wells gave a four-year university another shot and she graduated from Averett with a bachelor’s of science in education management.
“Now, looking back, I see that getting laid off was a blessing in disguise,” said Wells. “Ever since I was young I wanted to work in education. Going back to PHCC helped me realize a dream I had given up on.”
While at PHCC, she learned about the STEP Head Start program, which fosters healthy development of three- and four-year-olds from low-income families. The more she learned, the more she dreamed about one day working there. Before she completed her certificate program, someone from PHCC recommended that she apply for an open position. She was hired from the first interview.
Now, 14 years later, PHCC is still there for her, producing many of her employees. As the manager of the STEP program in Franklin and Patrick County, she finds that many of the teachers she hires are PHCC graduates. She says PHCC is still there for her because it’s assuring as a manager to know first-hand the “quality of training they receive in that program.”
A lot has changed for Shirley Wells in the last 20 years. Her smile seems to be a permanent accessory. “I feel so blessed by PHCC. Without them I’d be making ends meet looking for another factory to come to Martinsville. Instead, I am doing what I love. Who knew losing your job could be such a blessing?”

Shirley Wells
Shirley Wells
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