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Divorcee was determined to go back to college

June 03, 1997|By Judy Ernest

Amy Anderson is as excited as any recent college graduate about her new job. The difference between Anderson and most graduates is age. She's 47, a divorced mother of three children.

When Anderson's husband left her five years ago, she was in shock. A stay-at-home mom and community volunteer, she hadn't worked for 20 years. She had dropped out of college at age 19 after one year.

``I didn't have any training, but knew I had to do something to support myself,'' she said.

In the midst of the divorce proceedings, she saw an ad for Akron University encouraging adults to go back to school.

``A friend encouraged me to be a nurse, saying `You can always get a job.' '' she said. ``I was so afraid of going back to school. I hadn't done well the first time, my writing skills were bad, and it was difficult for me to remember things.''

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She took two noncredit classes to get in the groove for studying.

Soon after enrolling in January 1993, Anderson knew she didn't want to be a nurse. What appealed to her, however, was a sociology course.

``But since I would have had to have a master's degree in sociology to get a job, an adviser told me to go into family development,'' she said. ``It was hard. Before each test, I would say, `I'm going to fail,' and then I would get an A. I'm still in amazement that I graduated.''

Anderson credits supportive family and friends for her achievement. Her children, Ben, Jim and Gretchen, were 5, 11 and 15 when her husband left.

``I'll always remember the grin on Jimmy's face when I told him I thought I would go back to school,'' Anderson said.

And her children will remember the look on her face last August when Gretchen threw a surprise graduation party for her mother.

To get through school, Anderson had several part-time jobs, serving as clerk for Union Cemetery in Peninsula, Ohio, where she lives, and as a reporter for a community newspaper. She continued with her volunteer work for the Peninsula, Ohio, Library.

``It was hard going back to school, but I think my age was an advantage. The university caters to the nontraditional student. They see you as serious and are very supportive. Just being older means you are more serious, and your goals are different.

``I wanted to be able to support myself so I would never have to be in the position of relying on someone else. My spousal support ended the June before I graduated.''

This month, Anderson started working full time at a job she found due to an internship.

``In order to graduate in August, I needed two more courses. The ones I wanted were not being offered, so I took `Victim in Society' in the field of sociology, she said. ``It didn't quite fit the requirements for family development, but it fit my schedule.''

Anderson was so taken with the instructor and the course that she interned in the Victim Assistance program the instructor runs. That internship became a part-time job in August; she's now working at the same job full time.

Anderson serves as a court advocate for victims of violent crimes, offering crisis counseling and court support.

She said she knows she has come a long way - from feeling like a victim of circumstances and wanting to be cared for to offering counsel to those who are victims of violent crimes.

She is apprehensive about working full time and juggling the responsibilities of family and community. But the friends who supported her through college offer the same advice they gave her then: ``You can do it.'' And now she believes it.

``My faith got me through every bit of this,'' she said. ``When my internship ended last August and I applied for a part-time position ... I was told to wait a few days for a decision. I called my church and asked them to pray, and I got the job.''

Now, as an independent, self-supporting woman, Anderson is dating a man who, she said, ``is very special'' - an answer to another prayer.

Want to retrain?

Anderson has this advice for others contemplating retraining:

- Enroll in a college that is receptive to nontraditional students.

- Plug into a support system, through your church or community of friends, for help with child care.

- Take a noncredit course first to get your mind ready for learning.

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Have you started a home-based business? What problems are you encountering?

Write to Judy Ernest in care of The Herald-Mail Co., P.O. Box 439, Hagerstown, Md. 21741.

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