It was fate that led 2018 LFCC grad to embark on a nursing career.
But it was her hard work and determination, as well as the support she received at Lord Fairfax, that led to her being named this year’s TRiO Outstanding Graduate.
Federally funded, TRiO Student Support Services provides extra services, such as intensive academic support, one-on-one tutoring, financial aid assistance and financial literacy education, to students who are either first-generation college students, low-income, or have a disability.
“Heather is not only a strong academic student, but she’s really a phenomenal human being,” TRiO Director Sarah Williams says. “Heather is a shining representation of what it means to be an LFCC student.”
During a recent employee appreciation luncheon, Spencer shared her inspiring story with Lord Fairfax employees. She started with how she ended up in the school’s nursing program.
“I didn’t feel like I was missing anything,” Spencer says. “I didn’t feel like I was destined for anything more than what I was doing at the time.”
What she was doing was taking care of her three children, ages 2, 6, and 8, and occasionally making extra money through babysitting or setting up photo sessions.
However, when her fiance’s grandfather became seriously sick and the man’s daughter told Spencer she wanted to have him move into her home in Front Royal, fate intervened. But, the man, named Bobby, needed full-time care, and his daughter and son-in-law had full-time jobs. Spencer said she would help the family.
“I was hired as his full-time caregiver,” Spencer says.
In that role, she prepared his meals, and helped him with hygiene. The great part about the job was Spencer was able to take her small child along with her to work.
She remembers her 12-hour shift on July 31, 2014.
“Bobby stopped me and said, ‘Hey, you really should be a nurse,’” Spencer says.
She laughed and said maybe someday, but at the moment taking care of him was her priority.
“That evening we discussed our lives and our regrets and our accomplishments,” Spencer recalls. “Before I left, I grabbed his hand and said, ‘I will see you.’”
The next day, she received a text saying Bobby had died after unexpectedly going into cardiac arrest.
Spencer realized her last interaction with him was fateful, and she needed to do something as a result. She asked a friend to come watch her children, and came to Lord Fairfax to take placement tests.
“I enrolled for the fall semester, and I haven’t stopped since,” Spencer says.
After the death of her fiance’s grandfather, becoming a nurse was something she had to do.
“It was intended for me to be a nurse,” Spencer says.
She took motivation from her children, who would greet her upon her return from school every day and leave her encouraging notes. Spencer knew she could never let her children see her give up.
“I couldn’t imagine them experiencing failure through me,” she says.
Thankfully, Spencer had great support from her family and from her professors at LFCC. She says Chemistry Professor Sam Dillender and Associate Biology Professor Jeff Hollar, as well as advisor Ashley Jay, were especially helpful.
“Those professors are some of the kindest, most empathetic, caring men that I’ve ever met in my life,” Spencer says. “I felt they were more sure of me than I was of myself sometimes.”
She hopes to work as a labor and delivery nurse, and plans to get her bachelor of science in nursing degree at Shenandoah University.
“I’ve set a new precedent for what we can achieve,” Spencer says of being the first member of her family to earn a college degree.