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Giving impacts community

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By Special to the Chronicle

By Judy Johnson

Last month, Denise Willis, director of Withlacoochee Technical Institute, wrote about being thankful for area businesses that provide job and internship opportunities for graduates of our career and technical programs. This month we are thankful for the generosity of members of our community who have reached deep into their pockets to make a second chance at education possible for many of our neighbors, by providing funds for tuition and test-fee scholarships. Thank you to the following organizations: Black Diamond, Citrus Education Foundation, Citrus Memorial Hospital, Great American Realty, Inverness Elks, Inverness Rotary and other individuals who choose to be unsung heroes.

There are many reasons why someone does not finish high school in the traditional way. For many of those students, it was due to hardships and circumstances not in their control. 

Others needed time and experience to understand the value and importance of education. Regardless of the reason, our students now know that without a high school diploma and at least one year of post-secondary training, the likelihood of ever earning more than minimum wage is remote. Earning a high school credential through the GED program empowers students to move beyond unemployment or minimum wage employment, to post-secondary training leading to an industry credential or college degree. 

In past years, adult education classes, which include GED preparation, adult basic education, adult English for students of other languages and vocational preparation, were free to anyone motivated enough to go back to school to better themselves. 

Beginning in July 2011, the state Legislature passed a bill mandating block tuition fees for these classes. This created yet another obstacle for students who were already working to overcome poverty, unemployment, single parenthood and a lack of resources, and caused a drop in enrollment by more than 35 percent. 

As we shared success stories from our adult education Career Pathways Programs and talked about the need for resources and support in helping us continue to make it possible for people to change their lives, our community responded. Contributions from Citrus County residents and organizations made it a reality for students to move from unemployment or minimum wage jobs to self-sufficient citizens earning the wages necessary to provide for their families.

Individuals and organizations in Citrus County have contributed more than $13,000 to provide scholarships for tuition and testing fees. Recipients of these funds have also received support with child care and transportation to allow them to come to school and focus on completing their education. These funds, along with support from United Way and Workforce Connection, impacted more than 110 students and their families. Many of these students have already passed the GED test to achieve their high school credential, and are actively enrolled in post-secondary classes at the College of Central Florida and Withlacoochee Technical Institute, as well as other schools. 

Thank you for caring and for your generosity. Together we are changing lives, positively impacting families and improving our community. 

Judy Johnson is assistant director of Withlacoochee Technical Institute.