At 29 years old, Sarepta Elliott knows life doesn’t always go the way you plan. She knows that things will happen and they will interrupt your dreams. She knows it takes hard work to be successful. Along her journey to earning an associates degree in dental assisting, she’s had setback after setback. But she never wavered in desire to complete her education. Despite overwhelming odds, she has been determined to make her dreams come true.
“Never give up,” said Elliott. “No matter what happens in your life, you are strong and you can do it. The only person holding you back is yourself. There are tons of things that are going to be thrown at you. From little things to the hardest things, even in the darkest of times, there is always a light at the end. Keep your faith. Keep your strength. And keep going.”
It’s taken a lot of patience to reach this point in her life, being a recent graduate and newly employed dental assistant. Sarepta admits that the biggest challenge was learning how to juggle. But she learned because she had too, because her dreams depended upon it. She’s successfully juggled raising a family, caregiving for her disabled father, and commuting from Mayfield to classes at West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah. But she believes that everything in her life has happened to prepare her to appreciate her life today.
After she graduated high school, she enrolled at West Kentucky Community & Technical College to study visual communications because she loved photography. While attending classes, she heard that the community college offered a dental assisting program. With her interest piqued, she began the process to change majors because she saw dental assisting as a greater career opportunity for her. That is when her father became ill. Between his hospitalization and continued need for care, she decided to drop out of school. Her mother had died when she was 13 years old. With a brother who lived away, she became the family caregiver. She worked and took classes when she could, trying to fulfill prerequisites for dental assisting program. Then, her father suffered a heart attack and a stroke. Once again, she dropped out of school to take care of him.
“He’s done so much for me, and been so supportive of me, there was no way that I wasn’t going to take care of him,” said Sarepta.
It was during this time, that she met my husband. After they married, she became pregnant. She anticipated that she would deliver their son just before the spring semester began, so she enrolled in courses. However, her son was born early. Complicating his prematurity, he was diagnosed with lymphedema, which required him long hospital stays. Afterwards she didn’t want to place him in daycare, so she withdrew before the semester began.
As time went by, her son’s situation improved. Then she and her husband had another child. With her hands full of two small boys and two teenage stepdaughters, she stayed at home, raising her children until she could go back to school. Meanwhile, her husband was pursuing his bachelor’s degree. Together, they worked to keep everything in balance.
In the fall of 2015, her husband became determined that ten years after first enrolling in college, Sarepta, would once again, registered for courses. This time, he wanted to make sure she finished.
Four weeks into the semester, she received a panic phone call from her babysitter. Her son’s leg had begun turn red and swell. She left class and made a frantic dash to her babysitter’s house, where she found her son lethargic and unresponsive. After an emergency life flight to Louisville, Sarepta spent a week in the hospital with her son. She missed five days of classes (the maximum allowed for the entire dental assisting program). The nurses created a workstation for her, where she could do homework and keep pace with her classes, when her son was slept. When they returned home to Mayfield, Sarepta was allowed to make up her lab time and she kept moving forward.
Slowly the weeks passed. With accumulating debt, Sarepta sought tuition assistance from the West Kentucky Workforce Board to help pay for her final semester. Because the family had limited income, she qualified for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act as an adult customer. Because she was pursuing a high-demand career in the health occupations industry cluster, WIOA helped to pay for her tuition, fees, and books. That assistance meant the family could afford her commute. It also meant that she didn’t have to take an additional part-time job; instead, she could focus on her classes, her externship, and graduate.
On May 7th, she graduated from West Kentucky and Community College. By the time she walked across the stage, she had also found a full-time job working for Dr. Wes Mills, DMD in Mayfield. She’s thankful to have found a position in career she loves. Plus, she’s excited that she won’t have to commute for work.
“I’m truly grateful to find a career that I’m passionate about, that will allow me to contribute financially to our family and our future,” said Sarepta. “I’m also thankful that our office is open four days a week. That will allow for me to continue to care for my father, and schedule his doctor’s appointments on my day off. God has truly blessed me. I believe that he placed everything in my life so that I could learn to juggle. He knew what was coming and that I needed to be ready. Juggling just comes second nature to me now.”
© Purchase Area Development District and PADD Perspectives, 2016.
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