PENDLETON --- Choose a job you love and you'll never work a day in your life.  

Heather and Brian Jones had often heard that well-known adage throughout their lives but they had never experienced it.  Until this year.

Heather, 36, a stay-at-home mom while their four children were growing up, is finding her niche while pursuing a career as a phlebotomist in the health care field.  Brian, 45, an Army Gulf War veteran and former police officer, discovered he has a real knack for computers and is enjoying every minute of his newfound career as a computer technician and webmaster for Spartanburg County School District 2.

Retraining at Tri-County Technical College has put the couple back to work in jobs they love and provided the financial stability and benefits they need. Even the one-hour commute from Clemson to Spartanburg can't erase the smile from Brian's face, Heather notes.  "It doesn't bother you if you are driving to a place you like," Brian said.

Heather, now working as a phlebotomist, often stays late past her shift. "I don't have to; I just enjoy it," she said.

Neither had talked seriously about college during their eight-year marriage.  Money, or the lack of, and time were the main stumbling blocks.

"We never thought college was an option until Tri-County provided a starting-over point for both of us," said Heather.

Brian's computer technology degree, coupled with Heather's phlebotomy certification, will change the family's lives and they are quick to point out that it wouldn't be possible without scholarships provided to Tri-County by the SC General Assembly for short-term job training programs through the Corporate and Community Education Division (phlebotomy for Heather) and a VA scholarship for Brian.  

The S.C. General Assembly allotted the State's 16 technical colleges funding to award scholarship money late last year. Tri-County received $335,000 earmarked for in-demand, QuickJobs training in the areas of manufacturing, health care (both clinic and office related), transportation and logistics (i.e., truck driving, IT, computer, business and highway construction). 

Tri-County Technical College's Corporate and Community Education Division offered scholarships for quick jobs training to help individuals who are unemployed, as well as underemployed, prepare for high-demand jobs that lead to a sustainable wage.

Scholarships of up to $2,000 per student were granted to successful applicants like Heather, who needed training to get into the workforce quickly. She inquired about the phlebotomy class but was worried about the cost - the financially-strapped family couldn't spare the $1800 tuition. She recalls the day she learned she had been selected.

 "I was told there were scholarships available so I applied. When I learned right after Christmas that I was accepted, I broke down and cried. It was a wonderful gift and a huge relief.  The scholarships are for people in my position - who don't know what to do next.  No money out of pocket is a huge deal.  It was an enormous burden taken off of us.  Without the scholarship, I wouldn't have my certification. We finally are going in the right direction." 

This fast-track program enabled her to get the training she needed in just five weeks.  "My clinical training was a wonderful experience. I learned something new every day.  It's such rewarding work.  When a patient says it didn't hurt, I've done my job well," said Heather.

Brian did a variety of jobs before he discovered his love of computers.  He was in the Army for five years, serving as a nuclear, biological and chemical defense specialist in the Gulf War. After returning home, he worked as a dialysis technician for eight years, then was a police officer and later sergeant for Elberton, Georgia, for a decade until debilitating episodes of PTSD necessitated his leaving law enforcement.  He took a job at M &M Test and Balance in Toccoa which involved lots of travel. Seeking a job with more money, stability and time with family, he accepted a job with a security system business but working on commission put the family in financial distress. 

 "Not knowing what is coming next--  including the next paycheck -- was very stressful," said Heather. "We lived month to month with no extras."  

In May 2013 the VA clinic Brian was working with to treat his PTSD referred him to Vocational Rehabilitation for aptitude testing. "Voc Rehab gave me hope," he said.

When he qualified for a VA scholarship, he learned he would have to quit his job.  While discussing their options on the way home, the couple rode by Tri-County's Easley Campus.  Neither knew it existed.  They stopped in, arriving just 10 minutes before the COMPASS test was to begin.  Both took it and began to think seriously about college.

Brian became a full-time Computer Technology student while Heather began taking science courses in preparation for the Medical Laboratory Technology program.   The family of six lived very frugally on a monthly stipend from the VA, along with Brian's work/study check from Tri-County. 

Meanwhile, Heather was struggling academically.  Diagnosed with ADD, she also suffered from test anxiety.  "Dr. Stephan Irwin (biology instructor at Tri-County) encouraged me to keep trying," she said.  He put her in touch with Tri-County's Disabilities Coordinator, who arranged for extra time on tests.  "Dr. Irwin saw me fretting before tests and frantically erasing answers.  He approached me and gave me the disabilities coordinator's name.  They went all out for me," said Heather. 

"Heather did seem to struggle with testing and had a considerable amount of test anxiety," Dr. Irwin said.  "She also appeared to know the material better than the tests reflected. As I observed this, along with communicating with her about her challenges, it occurred to me that she might benefit from contacting our disabilities coordinator to see if she met any of the conditions to receive accommodations. I myself was diagnosed with ADHD while pursuing my bachelor's degree, and I know how much difference accommodations can make to those of us with learning variances."

"Without encouragement and tutoring from Dr. Irwin, I wouldn't have had the courage to continue.  I would have given up," said Heather, who, with Brian's VA benefits and a Pell grant, will continue her studies in the University Transfer program and will graduate with an associate in arts degree in the spring of 2017.  

In the past, from October through April, the months Brian was in combat, were the toughest in terms of the PTSD, Heather said, but she began to notice improvement with therapy and college.  PTSD episodes were less frequent and Heather attributes it to the self confidence he gained from being successful in college, graduating, finding a career and most of all, happiness.

"The VA offered a tutor and made sure I had the tools to pass the classes.  So did the Computer Technology instructors, who go above and beyond. It's the most open-door policy I've ever seen.  You don't leave until you have an answer to the problem," Brian said.

Computer Technology Program Coordinator Phil Smith says Brian came to Tri-County determined to learn.  "He wanted to be here.  He was a role model for the younger students on how to get things done.  They looked up to him because he is reliable, dependable and a self learner." 

Not long after Brian graduated in 2015 with a computer technology degree, he was offered a job for Spartanburg School District 2. He services four schools with 4,000 devices troubleshooting computer problems and mobile devices for the students and teachers.  He also maintains and revamps the website.

"My boss, a veteran, was looking for veterans with computer degrees.  The VA rep told me to get my application ready.  I was hired days later. My employer is impressed with the job I've done.  And that's a reflection of what I was taught here at Tri-County," said Brian.

"Tri-County has been a blessing to us," Heather said."  "We could still be scraping by with dead-end jobs but Tri-County opened doors for employment."

"It's a whole new ballgame when you enjoy what you do," he said.