Brenda Jones – A Late Start at a New Life

For 29 years Brenda Jones rose through the ranks at Brake Parts, Inc. working her way from Timekeeper to Staff Accountant. She served the company for nearly half her life as a faithful employee through nearly three decades of name changes, technology changes, and personnel and she was comfortable. She had planned on retiring with them. That modest goal ended when she found the company was downsizing and her job was being shipped overseas.

No one would have blamed Brenda if she had gotten upset or felt betrayed, but that’s not her. She has something special that many of us take for granted, a positive attitude. She took this negative experience and chose to look at it as an opportunity. She knew with a good attitude, drive, and faith she had succeeded before and though it was scary to start over later in life, she was determined to see it happen again. Brenda chose to see herself as fortunate, she had always wanted to go to college, but never had the chance. She even credits the Brake Parts facility for being proactive in laying the groundwork to ensure her and all those effected would receive as much assistance as possible.
In the first interview Brenda was a little nervous, but excited and confident of her ability. She told the interviewers about her recent AAPC certification and made sure to also inform them that she would be taking International Classification of Diseases – 10th Revision (ICD-10) through AAPC. This was an additional credential that would soon be required of all coders. She was nervous, but felt good about how she had performed in her first interview. The interview panel at Heritage Hospice must have liked her interview also, because shortly after Brenda was called for a second round. She reminded the interviewers that not only was she certified and ready to work, she was taking the initiative to get the additional credential on her own. In the days following her second interview, Brenda finished her ICD-10, and one of her first acts was to call Heritage Hospice and let them know.  Her willingness to communicate must have really impressed the organization, because she was called in for an interview with the Executive Director, Janelle Wheeler.
After three rounds of interviews all she could do was wait. During that time, Brenda received a couple of calls encouraging her to please continue to wait for a formal response for the position. Brenda questioned, “Was I truly going to be offered the job?   That’s what I was being told in a way. I felt like I knew that I would be placed where I should be, in the right time.” Finally, the call came and she was offered the position.

Brenda was very thankful for the assistance of the Kentucky Career Center - Bluegrass staff Aimee Neal, WIOA Workforce Specialist and Kathryn Reppert-Ensor, Trade Readjustment Allowance/Trade Allowance Adjustment Coordinator, at the Danville location. Brenda concluded, “I had so much guidance and support with this journey from Aimee and Kathryn at the Career Center. They recognized my desire, morals, and work ethic and they answered so many questions. They eliminated my insecurity to allow me to blossom and succeed. I consider them forever part of my life and a huge part of my success in this journey.”

Brenda created a positive future through having a positive outlook. She praises the work she does at an organization she loves. She respects and appreciates her coworkers and sees herself not only as part of a team, but performing a very important service to those in need, saying, “my job is to make sure the person who needs hospice never has to worry about the billing and they can rest assured everything is taken care of for them. It’s very fulfilling.”

Change is hard, but as Brenda believes, “along with change comes opportunity” and that opportunity came through the Trade program (Trade is a federal program that provides aid to workers who lose their jobs or whose hours of work and wages are reduced as a result their jobs being outsourced overseas). She had a choice, try to find another job with no education or go to college and train for a new career. She knew she had a talent for numbers, so she started asking questions. “What were the growing fields?” “Where can I get more security in the job market?” That’s when she came across medical coding. Researching the field, she found it was expected to have growth and a lot of opportunity.

Brenda checked out various schools until she found one with a curriculum that fit her needs. Choosing to pursue the accelerated program, she completed training in about a year, because her end goal was always to get back to work as quickly as possible. She said, “Everyone was very understanding and I found myself being a good example to my grandchildren as to the importance of choices and studies. It was a good feeling to have the family support and to know that they were proud of me and my accomplishments. I took all my courses very seriously and graduated with honors by earning a 4.0 all the way through.”

She became a certified coder, passing the brutal five hour and forty-five minute American Association of Professional Coders (AAPC) exam a week before she completed training. With the coding test out of the way she began applying for positions and interviewing. The career counselor at her college recommended that she apply for an open position with Heritage Hospice. She knew she had what it took to do the job and she made sure her resume and cover letter reflected it. She added, “I knew when I walked through the door that this was the place that I was meant to be. I felt very strongly about how I could compliment the already awesome nature of the work. I had finally found a true team from every area involved. Everyone there was needed for a common and heartwarming and deserving purpose! All I had to do was interview and communicate it.” 

Pete Brown – The Power of a Positive Attitude 

Between 2010 and 2012 things couldn’t have gotten much worse for Pete Brown. Starting in 2010, he found himself on probation, unemployed, and in two motorcycle accidents in a six short months. Those two accidents didn’t sit well with his probation officer who revoked his probation, sending Pete to prison for a year. That was pretty close to rock bottom for him. When Pete was released on June 1st of 2012 he was determined to turn his life around.

It wasn’t long after his release he was in the Lexington location of the Kentucky Career Center – Bluegrass and saw a flyer saying “Electrify Your Future” with the Amteck Quick Start training program. Pete took those words seriously and completed the online application. It wasn’t long after that he got a call from WIOA Business Services Specialist, Randy Johnson, about attending the program. After a few short questions he found out he qualified to attend.

He showed up for orientation with 21 other people knowing he was competing for one of only 6 vacant positions. Pete was concerned about his chances; he was older than the other people in the class. At 53, he was convinced Amteck would be looking for younger people would provide them a lifetime of service. The voice of worry kept at him the first week of class until he decided to speak to the instructor. Jon Dougherty, Education Director, told Pete it wasn’t about age. Jon told Pete, Amteck was looking for people who put forth the effort, showed up on time and had a good attitude. Pete chose to take Jon at his word. He was half way through the 
class already and knew if given the chance he could do the job. Pete’s 
work ethic, great attitude, and candor worked in his favor, because on September 27th, 2012 he was offered one of the first positions available.
Getting hired with Amteck started Pete on the long road to become a licensed electrician, gaining several certifications and awards along the way. Among those accomplishments are his apprenticeship training certificate, his attendance certificate, and his OSHA training certificate. His most recent is accolade is of Certified Electrical Instructor. Not everyone can be an instructor; it takes a certain kind of person who can not only do the job, but communicate to others on how to do it. Jon saw that ability in Pete though. Pete had gone from worried about even getting hired to learning to teach the class himself.

In just a little more than four years Pete has gone from student to teacher, as well as, assisting on several major electrical contracts, including the new Shriners Hospital at the University of Kentucky. None of those things were expected, but when asked to do them, Pete, despite his reservation, said “yes”. He took the risk and it paid off. Sometimes it seemed like Jon and Amteck had more faith in Pete than he had in himself. Encouraging him to expand his abilities and to lead others. That’s probably why when he was asked about working for Amteck he said, “They (Amteck) have been good to me. The teachers are great…great company and benefits. You’re paid for time and travel. It’s a family-oriented company. I really like working for them.”

Amteck is always looking for more guys like Pete. In fact, they are scheduling two pre-apprenticeship trainings, one in March and the other in June. The company’s focus is on the individual, not on their past or their barriers. They say if you have a good attitude, like working with your hands, a problem solver, and drug-free, then they can start you on the road to employment in just a few weeks. Pay, if you’re hired starts at $12.50 an hour and goes up twice per year, until you reach $22.50 an hour. Jon added, “Electricians are in very high demand and that demand is growing. It is one of the few fields where you get a job and decent pay, as you’re in training. Plus, the training is free for those accepted into the program. Amteck invests in the trainees that are accepted by covering the cost of the training.”                

What happens if you are not hired with Amteck at graduation?  If you successfully complete the training you still receive the certificate and a letter of recommendation from Amteck that can be used as a major incentive to other electrical employers in the area. These credentials show you are coming in ready to work as a journeyman with documented knowledge that many other applicants’ lack. There is also the opportunity to be hired with Amteck later. If additional contracts are signed, you may get a call back from Amteck to see if you are available.

Jody Lassiter – Standing in Support of Service in Boyle County

Staff and citizens were surprised recently with the announcement on January 10th of twenty-one Kentucky Career Center locations closing across the state. This closure is scheduled to take place by the end of March and will dislocate ninety-five state employees, reportedly to be absorbed into other vacancies within state offices. This decision was brought about by a 4.8 million dollar deficit being carried by the Office of Employment and Training (OET).

The announcement included a description of a reorganization that identified hubs in each of the workforce areas. These hubs would be the only comprehensive locations within each area, meaning the only locations containing all required partners (OET, Vocational Rehabilitation, and Workforce) staff on a full-time basis. The announcement places emphasis on the use of technology to continue to serve its customers; it also tasks workforce with identifying, securing, and funding any additional physical locations within their regions. All career centers across the state were impacted by this announcement; the Bluegrass was hit particularly hard. While the average ratio for all other county-to-service hubs was approximately six to one, in the Bluegrass that ratio was seventeen to one. In addition, the population service area of 806,167 is 2.8 times the average for the state.

With the Bluegrass being a thriving area for many of the sectors identified as high demand in the state and with some of the largest manufacturers in the Commonwealth located in central Kentucky finding a shortage of qualified candidates, it came as a surprise that the reduction of brick and mortar locations was so great. As the local workforce staff rushed to ensure there would be no gap in the services, the news spread. Upon hearing about the reorganization, Jody Lassiter, President & CEO of the Danville-Boyle County Economic Development Partnership stepped in. Lassiter, a former member of the Bluegrass Workforce Investment Board, understood the value brought to Boyle and the surrounding counties through the services of the Kentucky Career Center and the many ways the loss of the location in Danville would impact the area.

Lassiter, in his efforts with Economic Development, has worked closely with staff at the career center, stating, “Erica Sluder (WIOA Business Services Specialist) has been a critical member of our recruitment team, when we have prospects who want to specifically talk about labor, workforce, and human resources issues. Every site visit is drastically different, it really is determined by what the client wants to hear, see, or do while they are here in the community, but I immediately call upon Erica to be the voice of ‘what is available’ in workforce development, whether it be assistance in funding, training, or support, once a company locates in our area. We definitely see the value of the WIOA (Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act) staff and as a result of the relationships Erica and others have developed over time with industries in the community, we want to make sure we have the services of the WIOA staff close at-hand, actively involved and engaged.” 

The Economic Development Partnership’s nine partners (4 branches local government, the Chamber of Commerce, the Industrial Foundation, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Heart of Danville, and Main Street Perryville) considered their resources available. Their hopes are to assist with a smooth transition for the WIOA staff and/or state staff in order to continue serving the individuals and business of Boyle County and the surrounding area. Lassiter has even offered multiple locations for consideration, both in the city center or a campus inside the Industrial Park, if staff were to be dislocated from their current location. Lassiter stated, “Our number one priority, due to our distance from Lexington, being in the far southwestern corner, is to retain, if not all, at least our workforce development team to be in close proximity to our industries and businesses.”
Lassiter understands the difficult decisions placed on those in state government due to limited funding and the challenges associated with offices and services and their locations. He adds, “regardless of what compels the decision, we (the Economic Development Partnership) want to be here in a supportive role locally, to make sure our clients’ needs are being met.”

Lassiter would like to see Workforce, the Office for Vocational Rehabilitation and Cabinets for Family and Children, co-located in the current Danville Kentucky Career Center - Bluegrass building, which offers off-street parking and is a spacious facility. He sees co-locating those organizations within that building as simpler and cost-effective. Lassiter added, “We hope the state will see the value of the property it already owns and controls, and the efficiency of co-locating state offices that are in leased spaces around town.” He continued, “But if that’s not sufficient, we want to be in a position to help the WIOA staff in particular, because of their services to business and industry.” 

Tommy Mullen: Saving Lives in Estill County
A recent report by the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment on the condition of animal shelters in the Commonwealth, came to the official conclusion of what those in animal welfare have known for a while: things are bad. Kentucky ranks 50th in animal welfare in the nation. Counties across the Commonwealth are overburdened with maintaining many civic areas, meaning shelters just cannot afford to be a priority. It may surprise you that some counties don’t even have a shelter. That’s not to say those counties don’t have the same issues other counties do, they just can’t afford the overhead in their budget for such an investment. This means they have to outsource the service to another county, who often don’t have the time, money, or resources either. In the report, 91% of shelters identified funding as an issue with their ability to meet the need.

Lack of funding is not likely to change anytime soon. This has led one shelter located in the Bluegrass Area Development District, to get creative in their dedication to saving animal lives in Estill, Lee, Owsley, Jackson, and Wolfe Counties. A few years ago Estill County’s Judge Executive, Wallace Taylor, made the decision to appoint Tommy Mullen the Director for their shelter, while simultaneously naming him their first Animal Control Officer. Tommy and his assistant Karen are the only two paid staff at the shelter, relying on volunteers to for many of the non-administrative duties. When Tommy took over the role of Director, he was facing a miserable situation. Euthanasia statistics at the shelter were horrible, with almost half of the animals brought in being euthanized, and the animal defense league citing their deplorable conditions.

Tommy was determined to change the state of the shelter. One of the first things he changed were cleaning practices. The cost of cleaning had been over $350 per month, but he was able to bring those expenses to under a $100 a month, allowing more money to go directly to animal care. He was able to reduce costs by working with local veterinarians and gathering information from the University of Kentucky Diagnostics Lab. These contacts taught Tommy appropriate techniques and mixture amounts for creating a clean and sanitary environment for the animals being held. He worked with local volunteers to get the kennels treated, cleaned, and new doors installed. His changed food storage methods, saving them a lot of money by simply elevating the food to keep it away from moisture and rodents.

Those fundamental changes made a noticeable difference overall, but it wasn’t enough to get animals out of the shelter. One day a friend of Tommy’s recommended he try Facebook Live so people could see the personality of the dogs available for adoption. “We were full the first time we did it,” he said, “probably close to 30 dogs. In two days, they were gone. It absolutely went nuts. It blew my mind. We do that [Facebook Live] on a regular basis now.”

The statistics the Estill County Animal Shelter is seeing with Tommy at the helm are fantastic. “The first year [2012] I was here, we had about 350 dogs we had to euthanize and that has gone down to one (1) in 2016.” Three-hundred fifty dogs may seem like a huge number, and it is, but when you put in perspective that the year before he accepted the role as Director, a county with a population of just over 14,000 euthanized over 1,000 dogs and nearly 500 cats. Tommy pointed out that in 2015 he had to put down 11 dogs. He wasn’t pleased with that number, he said “it would have been seven, but four of them were from another county, and court ordered by a judge.” With a 99.7% decrease in shelter euthanasia over four years, it’s easy to see why the Estill County Animal Shelter is a success.
The near miracle of this is that this is done on an annual budget of $13,500 a year, not including payroll. Building and vehicle maintenance, animal care, utilities, and supplies are all covered under this extremely modest budget. Anyone who has been involved in animal welfare and rescue knows the extreme expense associated with the care of a stray or owner surrendered animal. When discussed, he modestly refuses to take much of the credit. Tommy, instead, points out the importance of his staff, both paid and unpaid, as well as, volunteers from the community: caring citizens, members of the county road crew, Teacher Sherry Murphy and her Estill County High School Spanish Club, and volunteers with local rescues. Tommy’s best kept secret weapon to saving lives may just be his willingness to partner to get the animals out of the shelter and into foster homes where they can receive the care they need. He works closely with Way Home Rescue Alliance, who assists in transporting animals to rescues all over the United States and Canada. Many areas of Canada and the north east of the US have very strict laws regarding animal care, meaning fewer animals end up in shelters, which creates a demand for rescue and shelter animals. He says, “They do a great job in getting the animals out.”

Tommy’s work has not gone completely unnoticed. He received the 2015 Employee of the Year through the State, but when asked about that, his response was again humble, saying “I really wanted Shelter of the Year. I can’t do this by myself and I’ve got an excellent team. It’s not about me.” Tommy Mullen and his team at the Estill County Animal Shelter, along with the Judge Executive Taylor are to be commended on their efforts to turn things around regarding the care for homeless and surrendered dogs and cats of Estill, Lee, Owsley, Jackson, and Wolfe Counties.

During the interview Tommy shared his goals for the future. He would love to see an updated shelter to better care for the animals. “I would love to have a state of the art facility. I would love to see us be self-funded through adoptions and rescues, that way we wouldn’t be a burden on the County.” Currently, less animals can be saved in the winter months because they can’t afford to heat the entire building in the winter, forcing Tommy to close off several of the kennels and cutting space in half.

Estill County may be a small, rural community in the Bluegrass Area Development District, but with dedicated people like Tommy and his staff, they are making some real magic happen.

The shelter is always in need of donations. If you would like to help the Estill County Animal Shelter, they are always accepting cleaning items, like Dawn, Clorox, and paper towels or you can make a monetary donation by contacting the Estill County Animal Shelter directly. Their phone number is: (606) 723-3587 or find them on Facebook under the Estill County Animal Shelter.