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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Homeless Medical Billing and Coding student sacrificed all to stay in school

November 3, 2016
Homeless and nearly broke, Kelly knew that education was the only way she could make a long-term change in her situation.

Just two months after enrolling in SJVC’s Online Medical Billing and Coding program, Kelly Eakin found herself without a place to stay. She had located her current apartment-share on Craigslist, after a job layoff caused her to gradually lose most of her possessions. Now that her roommate was reconciling with her husband, she didn’t even have that little bit of security.

“I’d never been homeless or had a repo (repossession) in my life,” says Kelly. “At age 44, I had used up my 401k and savings and had lost everything but my car and my dog.”

Kelly was determined to finish her 10-month certificate program, even though she was not sure how she would be able to complete her assignments – or even where she might sleep.

Her dream had always been to work in an environment devoted to helping others. She spent years working in medical offices, performing many of the tasks being taught in her Online Billing and Coding program. “I’d been doing that (billing and coding) for years, but needed the certification,” she says. “I couldn’t make any more money in the medical field unless I went back to school and furthered my education.”

Fortunately, her last employer would pay for her continuing education under the Trade Adjustment Act, designed for those whose jobs are subsequently contracted to overseas providers.

The financial benefit motivated Kelly to commit to her career goals. She had started and stopped her continuing education too many times to let it go this time.

Every day brought the same challenges: Where to get online, what could she afford to eat, where would she bathe and sleep. Her Jeep was her safety net when her options narrowed.

The good graces of a few friends helped her move from day-to-day. “I had a key to a friend’s office, and I’d go in there at nighttime and use his computer for class and bathroom to clean up,” she says. “It was always a matter of trying to get my work done and trying to figure out where I’m going to sleep. When you’re homeless, you have no set schedule.”

But, relying on the kindness of others was almost as difficult as the lifestyle she was forced to adopt. “I have a lot of friends, but I also have a lot of pride,” says Kelly.

“Kelly lived out of her car or hotel and had her car broken into,” says Sherry Toman, Director of eLearning Operations. “The worst was when her phone and computer were stolen. It was then that she started going to the public library every day just to keep up on her coursework.”

Lesser spirits might have been broken. And Kelly’s, too, was at high risk of shattering.

“One time I was ready to give up,” says Kelly. “I pulled over in a parking lot and called Alex Nolasco (Dean of Student Services); I’d never lived this lifestyle before and I was trying hard to keep up with school. I was very low on money and was ready to quit school and go back to work.”

Alex talked her down off the ledge of quitting and helped her through this very bleak time. “She was a friend to talk to, not just an administrator,” says Kelly. “She insisted, ‘Kelly, you can do this,’ and I knew I could. I knew I could overcome all the obstacles.”

“Kelly worked hard,” says Sherry. “She never hesitated to reach out to her instructors or Student Services Advisors, Mele LeVeaux and Reanna Gibbs, for assistance and tutoring.”

“The best thing about the program was the assistance I received,” says Kelly. “When an assignment said to do a flier, I had never used Word on a computer, so I was ready to go out in the garage and get some cardboard and make a flier. When I told my instructor (Mele LeVeaux), she stayed calm and she walked me through every step that I didn’t have a clue about.”

Kelly has been on a quest for survival all her life.

She had already survived many childhood traumas and disappointments. Diagnosed with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), Kelly didn’t get the support she needed at home to adjust to a world lacking focus. Mental and physical abuses over many years contributed to her self-doubt.

Two very positive things came from Kelly’s difficult upbringing. “It gave me an interest in the medical field and the desire to help people; there were plenty of people around me who were sick.”

She also learned to appreciate the value of hard work. “One good thing my stepfather gave me was a strong work ethic and determination to be successful,” says Kelly.

Kelly is not someone who lives with regret. She does not look back and wish she had not enrolled in SJVC’s Online Medical Billing and Coding program, or that she had just taken any job to get through her temporary crisis. She knows and trusts that she is exactly where she needs to be to go higher in her career, in her life.

Having just completed her program, she is excited – and uncertain – about what comes next.

“I don’t know where I’m going next (job), or where I’m even going to be living,” she says. “But, happiness, to me, is being able to support myself and not live paycheck-to-paycheck. And, not struggle, but be able to have extra money to go on vacations.”

She has never been in a better place to make all that come true.

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