Adult Student Invited to Roundtable Discussion with President Obama
Andrea Ashley with President Obama
June 30, 2012 --
Andrea Ashley has never bowled a 300 game. She has never made a hole-in-one.
But after meeting the President of the United States, the Lorain County JVS Adult Career Center student certainly has experienced this "once in a lifetime" feeling.
"It was awesome, exhilarating, an experience I will never forget," says Ashley, 42, about the private roundtable discussion she was invited to join with President Barack Obama when he visited Lorain County Community College on April 18.
Several JVS Adult Career Center students were invited to attend the "invitation only" event, which was designed to highlight adult workers, many who have been laid-off or displaced and are being retrained to enter the workforce in high-demand, high-skill career fields like healthcare and manufacturing.
Andrea, and three LCCC adult students, were the only participants invited to meet with the President for the private discussion before he addressed the audience of about 300 people.
"I thought that I'd be sitting in the audience with some of my classmates, but I never imagined that I'd be meeting the President in person," said Ashley, currently unemployed, but enrolled in the Adult Career Center's Electronic Health Records Program.
Ashley admits she was nervous about returning to school, thinking she would be one of the older students in the program. "In reality, there are many adults in Lorain County who are changing careers and gaining new technical skills to better themselves," said Ashley. "I didn't really realize this until I started the program." Ashley will complete the program in June, earning a heathcare certification.
The day she got the call from the White House started like any other day.
"I was shopping for something to wear and my cell phone started ringing," Ashley says. "The number was restricted, so I didn't answer it. I'm sure glad the representative from the Whitehouse left a message, which I thought was just my sister playing a joke on me!"
After Ashley spoke with the officials, she realized that her sister wasn't playing a joke on her, and that the White House had selected her to meet with the President after reading a paragraph she had written about why she decided to return to school.
"The night before the event I didn't sleep, not one wink, and I needed some rest because I knew it was going to be a long day," she says.
Ashley said that she arrived at LCCC about 11 a.m., joining a long line of people waiting to enter the building and was escorted backstage by Secret Service agents.
"Everyone, including the White House officials, and Secret Service agents, were so helpful and did everything they could to put me at ease," said Ashley
"When the White House photographers and Secret Service agents walked in the side door, I knew the President was in the building," continued Ashley.
"I was shaking when I met President Obama. He shook my hand," Ashley says. "I couldn't believe I was sitting face-to-face with the most powerful man in the United States. He rolled up his sleeves, sat down and talked very casually with us for almost 20 minutes; each of us told him our story."
Ashley, who has encountered her share of obstacles in life, had plenty to talk about.
Her challenges have included health issues, losing her unemployment benefits when the unemployment rate decreased, and her family's struggle to rebuild their split-level home which was damaged by severe flooding in March of 2011.
"Our neighborhood was never declared a disaster area," laments Ashley, recalling storms that pummeled Lorain County, and melting snow that flooded her home and garage.
"The water was 12-feet-deep in the lowest two levels of our home," says Ashley, whose family lived among friends, relatives and in hotels for almost three months.
Even worse, their flood insurance did not cover all the cost of damages under guidelines for multi-level homes, Ashley says.
"We live on a flood plain, so we have mandated flood insurance," she says. "Jokingly, I asked President Obama if he could talk to FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and do something about it. He empathized with me and kissed my cheek."
Ashley said that she never gave this conversation a second thought until the President mentioned her situation in his speech.
"I was standing right behind the President, listening, watching the teleprompter," she says. "Then he started talking about my personal hardships. This information wasn't on the teleprompter. My jaw just dropped."
"He took something from each of our stories during our meeting and added it to his speech. It made me feel special."
Afterward, reporters from CNN, Bloomberg, Washington Post and Columbus Dispatch interviewed Ashley and the three LCCC students.
"The whole day was pretty surreal. I thought that my wedding day was wonderful. This is right up there," she affirmed.
Ashley says that she is grateful for all the services provided by the JVS Adult Career Center, including the help she received to create a career portfolio, job placement assistance and the financial aid she received from the Workforce Investment Act to help pay her tuition.
"Starting over is difficult," says Ashley, who chose the Electronic Medical Health Records Program because of its diverse course selection.
"Anything related to healthcare, including medical terminology, medical billing and coding and health information technology are all at my fingertips in this program," she says. "And I know I'll have employment options after I receive my certificate."
Ashley is also considering her option of pursuing an Associate Degree in Health Information Technology, thanks to a partnership between the JVS and Lakeland Community College.
Says Ashley: "I see my future. I will be very employable in many different healthcare fields. Finally, there is light at the end of the tunnel…and it isn't a freight train!"