Formerly homeless, LFCC student on path to stability and a nursing degree

All it takes is just one class.

That’s the advice registered nursing student Alyssa Howard gives when it comes to pulling yourself out of the rut of dead-end jobs and pursuing your passion.

Howard has surmounted numerous obstacles to get to where she is today.

When she graduated from Page County High School in 2013, Howard thought she wanted to continue the EMT classes she had started and ultimately become a flight paramedic. In high school, she volunteered at the Stanley Volunteer Fire Department.

She enrolled at LFCC, but within the first month of classes she ended up homeless and dropped out, throwing herself into her full-time job at McDonalds. She would continue to work many hours for the next two years.

For several weeks in those early days, Howard was living out of her car. She then stayed in a shed that had electricity for three months, and was later able to rent an apartment and then a house.

Giving birth to her daughter, Addilyn Monger, in 2015 gave Howard a new focus and made her set some new goals.

“I told myself that by the time she graduated from kindergarten that I would have some type of degree,” she says.

Part of the time while she was pregnant, she was sleeping in her car.

“It taught me how to work really, really hard and to never quit,” Howard says.

A friend of hers decided to enroll in school, and that inspired Howard, who thought maybe she should take a class or two. She again enrolled at LFCC in fall 2017, taking some general education requirements.

Even then, Howard was thinking about applying to nursing school, making sure to take the prerequisites she would need. Fortunately for her, she was able to stay close to home while doing so.

“I took every single one of my classes either at the Luray-Page County Center or online until my first day of nursing school,” Howard says.

She ended up taking 18 hours of courses last spring – and making the President’s List.

Having her daughter also led her to change her career goal. Addilyn was delivered by midwives at a natural birth center.

“They completely changed my life because they helped facilitate the greatest moment that I’ve ever experienced, mentally, physically, emotionally,” Howard says. “I decided that I wanted to be a midwife, so I could do that for other people. That’s what led me to pursuing my nursing degree. I want to roll straight into my bachelor’s as soon as I graduate here, and then work on my master’s degree in nurse midwifery slowly.”

Thanks to federal financial aid, Howard’s tuition is covered by grants. Additionally, she is supported by the $2,850 Fred C. and Michele M. Fielding Scholarship for Health Professionals.

“The Fielding’s scholarship has been so helpful because my books for the nursing program were $1,500, and thanks to the scholarship, I didn’t have to pay that out of pocket, or for some of my other needed supplies, such as a tablet,” Howard says.

“We are really grateful for donors like Mr. and Mrs. Fielding,” says LFCC Foundation Executive Director Liv Heggoy.  “Without a scholarship, college is not possible for many students. Our nursing students have a variety of expenses in addition to tuition and books.”

Until she started nursing school, Howard worked full-time for Delaware North, the concessionaire at Shenandoah National Park. She went down to twice a week when her RN classes started, but was laid off in November. She will be rehired in May.

During the time she was laid off, she received some aid from the Tanya Bock Emergency Fund for Nursing Students to pay for a mandatory exam.

Although attending school while working and raising a preschooler is challenging, it’s a labor of love.

“I’ve had really good experiences with the faculty and the administrators here,” Howard says. “I feel like there are a lot of programs that are designed to keep students driven to stay in college. You can get help from the financial aid office and the Educational Foundation. I didn’t realize how much help is offered to students, to not let them give up on themselves.”

She has high praise for her professors.

“They make you feel like they want to be here,” Howard says. “They teach about their subject and about life. They connect with you.”

Her favorites included Associate Professor of Biology Donna Burge and Assistant Professor of Sociology Larry Friedenberg.

“She was one of the greatest teachers I’ve had in my life, and that’s saying a lot, especially considering it was an online class,” Howard says. “Professor Friedenberg gave me the drive that I needed right before I started nursing school. He made me feel like I could do it. I have all these teachers who are pulling for me.”

Now, Howard is joining LFCC’s TRiO program, which is available to students who are low-income, or have a documented disability, or are first-generation college students. Program members receive one-on-one advising and tutoring, free printing services, extra help filling out financial aid documentation and other services.

Aside from her sister, Howard has no family in the area, but has received support from friends.

“My biggest struggle is when Addilyn is with me, she really wants my attention, and it’s so hard to find time to do my schoolwork and spend time with her,” she says. “But, I remind myself that having a career is going to open up a whole other life for us to have together that we wouldn’t be able to have if I was only working dead-end jobs.”

Howard now finds herself encouraging others to pursue higher education.

“Now, I tell everybody, ‘Anybody can go to school, it doesn’t matter how much money you have, where you are in life, if you’re working,’” she says. “‘Anyone can take one class a semester, and there is financial aid that can cover that class if you qualify. There are so many people at this college that will get you in to that one class – and one class is all you need to start. And, if one class goes well, maybe you can take two classes next semester.’

“I think to myself now, why wouldn’t I get my doctorate? I love to learn. Why would I ever stop now?”

Howard will beat her goal of earning her degree before her daughter graduates kindergarten by a year.

“I get really emotional when I think about it,” she says. “Degree or not, we’re all still equally valuable in this world. There’s something beautiful about knowledge, and if you can gain it, you should.”

To support a scholarship for Page County students at LFCC, please contact [email protected].