Angela Mills- Career Center



Cris Ritchie

Marketing Communications Coordinator

Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, Inc.

Office: 606-435-8487; Cell: 606-438-9929

Barbourville Resident Angela Mills Turns to KCEOC JobSight in Return to School as She Completes Respiratory Therapist Program

Angela Mills had been working steadily as a receptionist when in 2019 she was laid off from her position and forced to rely on unemployment insurance benefits to help pay the bills. While losing one’s job might introduce a certain amount of anxiety, Mills saw it as an opportunity to take a step on a new career path with help from KCEOC Kentucky Career Center JobSight.

A resident of Barbourville, Mills was initially on the fence about whether to change careers after her layoff, especially if it meant enrolling in college classes.

“I thought, that’s hard at my age, and it’s expensive,” Mills recalls, noting that she was 46 when she began considering college. “I didn’t think I could afford to go back to school.”

While eyeing college enrollment with an interest in the respiratory therapy (RT) program at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, Mills contacted the KCEOC Kentucky Career Center JobSight in Knox County to see what sort of services might be available for her as a dislocated worker.

A partner in the Kentucky Career Center JobSight network of workforce centers, the KCEOC JobSight provides Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) services in Knox County under contract with the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, Inc. (EKCEP). Those services include programs for adults, dislocated workers, and youth who may need assistance honing skills such as résumé building or networking with local employers, or who need assistance being retrained or going to school.

Mills met with Jacqueline Pillay, an expert career advisor with KCEOC who explained what career services would be available to her. Because of Mills’ status as a dislocated worker following her layoff, she was eligible for funding to cover many of the costs she would incur while attending school, including needs-based payments, school supplies such as scrubs and books, and essentially whatever her tuition did not cover.

“With that in mind,” Mills says, “I saw that financially it was possible.”

Before Mills could be accepted into the RT program at Southeast, she needed to sign up to take an ACT test, and complete two college level courses that were prerequisites for the program. Additionally, because she’d never enrolled in college before, she would need to complete her basics at the same time she was enrolled in the 18-month RT program. It would mean 22-hour semesters and summer classes in addition to required clinicals.

For Mills, who was a high school dropout who earned her GED and hadn’t been in school for two decades, it was a daunting thought to take on such a workload, but becoming a respiratory therapist was a goal she was committed to achieve. And it was a goal that she says she wouldn’t have been able to meet without assistance from Pillay and KCEOC.

“She just always kept me up on everything,” Mills says. “I had no idea about the programs that KCEOC offers or how to go about doing any of this. Jacqueline, when she met me and saw that I was serious about doing this, she just stepped up and was amazing. She took care of everything, because I had so much on me with taking on that heavy class load, it was hard for me to think about anything else.”

Mills says at times she thought the workload might have been too much, but adds her children were an inspiration for her as she doubled down.

“My 18-year-old daughter, who’s going to be starting college soon, when I got tired and wanted to quit, I didn’t want to set that example for her,” Mills says. “The fact that I knew she was watching me, I did not want to set that example of being a quitter when it got tough.”

She didn’t quit, and by December 2020, through hours of classes and clinicals—and months of a global pandemic that changed the way her instruction was implemented—Mills was set to take her final exams. She needed to score at least an 88 to earn a certified respiratory therapist credential or a 94 or higher for eligibility to be recognized as registered respiratory therapist, which is a nationally recognized standard. She scored a 103 on her first attempt.

Mills then passed her boards and immediately went to work after accepting a position with Baptist Health in Corbin that was initially offered weeks before when she was still a student.

“The day I walked in there (Baptist Health) for clinicals, it felt like home to me and that’s where I wanted to be,” Mills says.

Mills credits working with KCEOC with her being able to complete the RT program, and recommends anyone in a similar position of wanting to step on a new career path to give their local JobSight a shot and see what services may be available.

“I was one of the people who questioned my age, my ability to be able to keep up, and the finances,” Mills says. “With the program and Jacqueline, they took the financial worry away and the financial burden, which allowed me to focus on my program and my studies, and I wasn’t worried about how I was going to keep the electric on, or was I going to be able to afford my books, was I going to be able to have scrubs for clinicals?”

“I just can’t say enough about how grateful I am for the program,” she adds. “So many people have the ability to move forward in life and to make those changes in their life, and be something better and fulfill a dream they’ve always had. But not everybody has the financial ability to do that, and that was the thing that held me back and the thing that has held a lot of people back, but with KCEOC’s program, it gives them the opportunity to make that dream come true.”

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EKCEP, a nonprofit workforce development agency headquartered in Hazard, Ky., serves the citizens of 23 Appalachian coalfield counties. The agency provides an array of workforce development services, administers the Hiring Our Miners Everyday (H.O.M.E.) program for dislocated coal miners and their spouses, and is the White House-designated lead organization for the federal TechHire designation for Eastern Kentucky. Learn more about us at http://www.ekcep.organd