This article is reprinted from a news item published in the Post-Journal on April 27, 2016 which was submitted by the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation and written by Sarah Shelters.
The paths of Julie Nagel, Carna Pierce and Heidi Raynor had never crossed until they began their careers at Hospice of Chautauqua County. However, these women all decided to return to college to follow their dreams of becoming a social workers. All while balancing the responsibilities and pressures of working full-time jobs and raising their children.
After high school, Nagel attended Jamestown Business College to be near her family while her mother battled breast cancer.
“I did not want to be away from home during those last years of her life…and I was able to be here for her and help her,” she said.
Nagel’s mother passed away when she was 22 years old and in the years that followed, she served as a supportive pillar in her family when her grandparents and her father passed away.
“Five years after my dad died, when my daughters were 14 and 10 (years old), I dusted off my shelved social work dream and decided to go back to school,” Nagel said.
Although she was working full time in a local doctor’s office and had a young family to take care of, Nagel says she was able to complete her schooling thanks to her supportive employer, husband and mother-in-law.
Nagel enrolled at Jamestown Community College, earned her associate degree and transferred to the State University of New York at Fredonia, where she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in social work. After a several-year journey to earn her master’s degree in social work, Nagel graduated summa cum laude from the State University of New York at Buffalo.
“”Looking back, all of my life experiences informed and supplemented my social work education and prepared me for my dream job,” Nagel said.
In 2007, as she was finishing her degree, Nagel interned with Hospice of Chautauqua County and in 2008 was hired full time as a social worker. During this time, Nagel was introduced to, and worked very closely with, Carna Pierce.
Like Nagel, Pierce followed the same educational path, attending JCC, SUNY Fredonia and SUNY Buffalo.
“I was very intimidated (to return to school) at 35 (years old),” Pierce said. “I appreciated the professors at JCC so much, they were my role models.”
As a stay-at-home mom to three boys, Pierce says it was a juggling act balancing school and her family.
“With everything I did I knew I was setting an example for my kids,” she said. “Going to college opened my mind, and my heart, to so many things.”
In 2005, Pierce had earned her master’s degree in social work and became a licensed master social worker. After working at Warren Family Services for a year, she accepted a position with Hospice of Chautauqua County.
“I couldn’t imagine doing anything else,” Pierce said.
For Heidi Raynor, the path to social work was not as clear. After earning her associate degree in human services from JCC, she went on to SUNY Brockport for her bachelor’s degree in elementary education and psychology.
“I wanted to be a teacher,” Raynor said. “After looking at a projected job forecast, I realized that social workers were projected better than teachers.”
While working as an assistant manager at Sam’s Club, Raynor took classes through SUNY Buffalo’s extension program at JCC and earned her master’s degree in 2010 and soon after began working at Hospice Chautauqua County with Nagel and Pierce.
“(As adult learners) we brought certain life experiences to our education that many traditional students didn’t have,” Raynor said.
As social workers with Hospice, all three women assist patients and their families with a variety of services related to traditional hospice care, palliative care and even pediatric care. These services include counseling, assistance with insurance or financial issues, advanced care directives, and aid in end-of-life goals.
“If you have a heart for people,” Nagel said. “Social work is the best place to go.”
The most important thing the women stressed was that it is never too late to return to school, or follow one’s dreams. They also appreciated the financial support they received through the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation’s extensive scholarship program.
“Everyone should apply for scholarships,” Nagel said. “They’re not just for kids, we weren’t kids. We were an investment in the community we were raised in.”
Both Nagle and Pierce were recipients of the Kathy Kardish Wilson Memorial Educational Fund, a scholarship created in memory of Kathy Kardish Wilson. Wilson, a wife and mother of three school-aged children, worked full time and volunteered in her church teaching Sunday school. She had plans to return to college to earn a degree in teaching when she was abducted and murdered in 1988.
Wilson’s friends, family and sorority sisters created this fund to honor Wilson’s memory and support women like her. Women interested in applying for this scholarship must be community minded, a mother of school-aged children and part of a two-income family. A special application for this scholarship is available online at crcfonline.org, or by contacting the Community Foundation.
Currently, all of Nagel’s, Pierce’s and Raynor’s children are either college graduates, or thinking about attending college.
“I wanted to encourage my kids to do whatever they wanted to do,” Pierce said. “We all just wanted to be role models for them.”
The Community Foundation is now accepting scholarship applications for the 2016-17 school year. To qualify, students must have graduated from a Chautauqua County high school. Scholarships are offered to undergraduate and graduate students studying a variety of subjects and vocations at two-year or four-year colleges or universities.
For more information, or to apply, visit crcfonline.org. The deadline for applications is June 1.