By REBECCA SCHWAB
OBSERVER Staff Writer
Determination doesn’t have an age limit.
This month is full of excited graduates celebrating the end of long academic roads and looking forward to whatever adventures are next. Silver Creek resident Barb Jones felt the same way as she graduated from JCC with her hard-earned human services degree. But Jones isn’t a wet-behind-the-ears, world-unwise 20-something. Nope Jones’s contemporaries are retiring left and right. For her, though, retirement is for the birds. Or at least the snowbirds.
Not so long ago that she doesn’t look sad when she talks about it, Jones went through what she calls a “devastating” divorce. At the time, she was upset and anxious about her future. She didn’t even have a high school diploma How would she get by? What would she do now that the relationship she’d devoted so many years to was over? Emotionally and financially, she felt lost.
But she wasn’t ready to lie down and let grief swallow her whole. After many deep breaths and with the support of her wonderful friends, Jones thought, “First things first,” and signed up for community education classes to get her GED.
“I was a wreck in the beginning,” Jones says. “But I knew I would come out standing on my feet. When I got the opportunity to go back to school, I took it.”
Originally, Jones only planned to get her GED. She ended up testing so high that her instructors selected her for the external diploma program.
“I got an actual high school diploma from Silver Creek!” Jones says, the pride showing on her face. “But I have to give so much credit to my instructor Linda Johnson. She met with me whenever I could meet. She was wonderful.”
And Jones didn’t stop there. One hard-earned success deserves another, so when NYSACRA (the New York State Association of Communities and Agencies) came into Claddagh Commission Inc., her place of work, and selected her for the Bridge Program, offering to pay for four college classes, Jones didn’t even hesitate. She applied to and was accepted at JCC for their human services program.
“I’ve always wanted to be in human services,” Jones says. “A counselor or social worker. I went back to school because I wanted something better, but I also want to help people.”
And thus began Jones’s long road of going back to school. And it wasn’t just working full time at Claddagh that kept her busy. She also owns and operates her own beauty salon in Dunkirk, Lake Shore Designs. One has to wonder how she did it all.
“I didn’t sleep much, that’s for sure!” explains Jones. “I’d stay up some nights until 2 a.m. studying. But I had help, too. My coworkers at Claddagh switched shifts with me so that I could attend classes. My clients at the beauty salon are also my friends, and they were willing to move their appointments around.”
Time management and fatigue weren’t the only obstacles Jones had to overcome on her path to her diploma. Being a non-traditional student is difficult at any age, but Jones was even older than most of the other adults going back to school.
“I didn’t fit in socially, especially at my age. A lot of younger students didn’t want to work with an older person,” Jones says. “The other non-traditional students were in their 30s or 40s. I was older than most of my professors. A lot of the technology was new. Luckily, in all of my classes there would be one younger person who attached to me and helped me out.”
Her professors at JCC were also very understanding, and made sure to do what they could to help Jones succeed.
“The professors were great,” Jones says. “Professor Rupprecht helped so much. He inspired me to see things in myself that I wouldn’t have seen without him. Professor Ianello and Professor Ziders were also wonderful.”
Jones just graduated with a 3.98 GPA. That’s about as close to perfect as it gets. In addition to her high grades, which speak for themselves about what a dedicated individual Jones is, there is more proof that others also see greatness in her. In 2011, she was inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa honor society, for which she had to be nominated. The really big surprise came when Jones won the Human Services Student of the Year award.
“I couldn’t believe it!” Jones says.
Of course, others could. Jones’s professors honored her in this way because she represents what someone in the field of human services should be. She is kind and patient, she is non-judgmental, and she puts her clients first.
“In the field of human services, you will work with the mentally ill. You will work with people on services. You can’t judge them,” she explains. “You come to see just how easy it is for life to change. At any moment, you can get into an accident and become disabled. You can go through a divorce and lose everything you have. You can become mentally ill. You have to look at each client as a person and not as what that person is going through.”
Now that Jones has graduated, now that she doesn’t have to study until 2 a.m. and go to classes after work, one might wonder what she will do with her time.
“Now that I’m done, I don’t know how I fit school in!” she says. “I’m still so busy. But I’m seeing friends more, and I’ve started exercising. I didn’t have time for that before. And I’m putting my house back in order after five years of school!”
She also hasn’t ruled out more school. She wants to go back to JCC in the fall to take a class that wasn’t offered before her graduation.
“I could be a perennial student,” Jones admits. “I love to learn.”
Now that she has her degree, Jones would like to eventually move to the macro side of human services, working in management rather than direct care.
Jones has good advice for anyone, of any age, who is thinking about going back to school for more education or training:
“If you want to do it, you’ll make time for it. Even if it’s not for money, but for your own self-satisfaction. Make up your mind and do it. It’s like quitting a bad habit. The first step is the decision.”
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