By Bonnie Henderson
FLORENCE, OR - Three years ago, Lorra Jones of Florence was a newly-divorced, 39-year-old mother of eight children, the youngest a newborn and the oldest just 16. Out of the work force for 15 years and without even a high school diploma to fall back upon, she was petrified about the future: the life changes that had been thrust upon her and the daunting prospect of supporting herself and her kids.
Today, thanks to the classes and individual help she found at Lane Community College's Florence campus, Jones is halfway toward her bachelor's degree and is aiming at a master's degree, with the goal of becoming an English teacher. "The future looks very exciting and very promising," she says.
Raised in Florence and married at age 19, Jones never finished high school. Why bother? Her job, as she saw it, was to be a wife and homemaker, and she threw herself into that job, even homeschooling her children as they grew. Despite her lack of enthusiasm for school as a teenager, she was an avid reader and writer.
Her divorce caught her totally unprepared. "I can either raise my kids flipping burgers or get into college and start pursuing a career," she remembers thinking. While going through a difficult divorce, she enrolled her school-age children in school and got a job at the local casino--first as a hostess and then as a housekeeper—she visited LCC's Florence campus to begin the process of completing her GED. "I was kind of in a fog," she recalls, but GED instructor Leonora Kent took her in hand. Thanks to her high-level language skills, Jones needed only to brush up on math a bit before taking the test, which she did, receiving the overall highest score at the Florence campus that year.
She then enrolled in the medical transcription program, but it wasn't a good fit. She even tried tile-setting—as she enjoys creative work with her hands—but it wasn't right either. What she really wanted was to become an English teacher—a thought she kept dismissing, put off by the years of schooling required and the uncertain job market for teachers. "But that's what I kept coming back to," Jones says, "something that combines my love of the written word with teaching others."
With help from, among others, then-director Bob Purscelley, who was able to finesse her financial aid application to arrange for scholarship support, Jones began working toward her Associate of Arts Oregon Transfer degree with the goal of eventually transferring to the University of Oregon to complete her bachelor's degree. Today Jones is just eight credits shy of her AAOT degree and is making plans to move to Eugene to take the next step in her education. That step has been made possible thanks to a Ford Family Foundation scholarship that will provide Jones with up to $25,000 in annual support through her undergraduate education and may provide further support up to a master's at a reduced amount.
"I don't know where I would be if Florence didn't have an outreach campus and I did not have this opportunity," Jones says now. "Having a community college here that gives adults the opportunity to pursue a college degree has made a world of difference in my life."
Her advice to other adults considering returning to college: Go for it. "You're never too old!" she insists. If it's going to take five years to reach your goal, she says, "That time is going to pass anyway. You might as well be pursuing something you want to do."
Published by Lane Community College Marketing and Public Relations June 2011.