Though the stitches were a little worn and the style may not have come straight off of that year’s runway, Pike Countian Michael Deaton says that it was a suit bought several years ago at his local Goodwill that best illustrates the impact the in-school youth program at the Big Sandy Community Action Program (BSCAP) in Pikeville has had on his life.
Now a certified pharmacy technician, Deaton is resting in a swivel chair and smiles as he reminisces about his very first suit. He explains how he met Jenni Hampton, an expert career advisor who headed the in-school youth program during his senior year at Shelby Valley High School in 2009-10, and how the lessons he learned from her are still helping today.
“We would do all sorts of little activities in the program,” Deaton says. “One particular activity that’s always stuck with me is we went to Goodwill and looked at clothes, like dress clothes and professional clothing.”
With a budget of only $10, Deaton and his peers in the program were tasked with finding suitable clothes for college and job interviews that they would be having in the next few years of their lives.
“It was enough for me to get a suit, and I actually wore that suit until about six months ago,” Deaton says. “I wore it to conferences, I wore it to my first medical school interview, which I got accepted after that.”
An irreparable tear forced Deaton to purchase a new suit in 2015, though he says he’ll never forget what that first suit represented—the opportunities and experiences he received thanks to becoming a part of the BSCAP program.
Big Sandy CAP provides Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) career advising services in Magoffin, Johnson, Martin, Floyd, and Pike counties under contract with the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, Inc. (EKCEP). The services help people re-enter the workforce or upskill for new, better jobs and careers. In addition to assistance to dislocated or underemployed adult workers, the agency also provides workforce services to in-school and out-of-school youth and area employers.
As part of the in-school youth program, Deaton participated in soft skills training to prepare him for college and the job market. The program also provided work experience opportunities for students to get a taste of what working would be like once they had graduated.
Deaton explains he and his family returned to Pike County in the fall of 2009 after moving to Somerset just before he had started high school. Coming back to see familiar places and faces in what is considered a formative year for many may have helped Deaton learn about the opportunities with the in-school youth program, he says.
“I was stressing out about college stuff, and my friends, several of whom were in the program, told me I should come to a meeting and meet Jenni,” he remembers.
“I knew I wanted to go to school, I knew I wanted to go to college. I’ve always been geared toward being the best and medical school was kind of a dream of mine,” he explains. “At the time, though, I had no idea how to do it or what to do.”
Being the first person in his family to go to college made planning and decision making a bit more difficult for Deaton, he adds, since he didn’t really have anyone with experiences like he was facing to help guide him. He says having someone there to help him fill out applications, file for financial aid, and know what to expect next and how to prepare for it was the biggest way the program was able to help him.
“It was really nice to find out I wasn’t the only one who felt like I didn’t know what I was doing,” he says, chuckling a bit at his younger self. “A lot of my friends, their parents had bachelors degrees and masters and doctorates, and they were all like it’s no big deal, but there’s a lot of bureaucracy involved. All I thought was that I signed my name to an application and sent it off and that was it—but even that costs money.”
Before becoming a part of the in-school youth program, Deaton says he didn’t think he had a chance in the world of academia.
“With the program—because of the program—I was able to get applications and get things turned in. For once in my life I was actually looking at what I wanted and what was best for me instead of just hoping to be found,” Deaton adds. “It was very empowering, and, honestly, a lot of my success I owe to the program because the program gave me the basic skills that I needed.”
Deaton says some of those skills included study skills and time management that helped him survive his college years. Now, he says he still uses those skills in his position as a certified pharmacy technician while he works to further his education and will remain thankful to the BSCAP youth program that helped open so many doors for him.
“When I was 17, I was like there’s no way. There’s no one out there who can help me, and I don’t know how to help myself. When I finally got into the program and I was able to reach out to people and to do things, I didn’t stop,” he says. “Once you make that connection [with people in the program and with a career advisor] it can be a connection for life.”
If anyone is questioning what their next step should be either in their education, their career, or even in life, Deaton says there’s one very important piece of advice he’d like to give them.
“Never be afraid to reach out, no matter what stage, whether you’re 18 or 35—be willing to embrace it,” he says. “I can say I really am thankful for the program and everything it’s done for me and continues to do. Hopefully others can have that same experience.”
EKCEP, a nonprofit workforce development agency headquartered in Hazard, Ky., serves the citizens of 23 Appalachian coalfield counties. The agency provides an array of workforce development services, administers the Hiring Our Miners Everyday (H.O.M.E.) program for dislocated coal miners and their spouses, and is the White House-designated lead organization for the federal TechHire designation for Eastern Kentucky. Learn more about us at http://www.ekcep.org, http://www.jobsight.organd http://www.facebook.com/ekcep.