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From grocery clerk to recruiter career coach extraordinaire

For years, Sarah Clarkston would clock in at her local grocery store, work her shift and call it a day. Even when her first store closed, she found another grocery gig to replace it. Growing up with a mother as a nurse, people would ask her if that’s what she wanted to be – but it wasn’t for her. But little did she know that one day, she’d hand over her last receipt and would pick up a new job at Mountain Empire Community College, where she got a new title and her mom became a coworker.

“My mother is the coordinator of the nursing program and has been an instructor for 20 plus years,” said Clarkston. “I had that community college feeling fostered into me through her. I worked in a grocery store for most of my life and I knew that I wanted to do something different.”

So when a job opened to be a recruiter and retention specialist opened up at Mountain Empire, she applied, got the job and found out that she’d be working in the health sciences area – which meant her office was just down the hall from her mom.

“My mother being a nurse my whole life, it was hard living under that shadow with the exception of following in her footsteps,” said Clarkston. “But now, in my new role, I’m helping others becoming nurses. Where I’m at is very rewarding. I’m now helping people earn a degree and change their lives.”

In addition to her recruiter and retention work, Clarkston is also the FastForward Career Coach at Mountain Empire. In rural Big Stone Gap, Clarkston often finds herself out in the community having conversations with students facing challenges – like being laid off or navigating the unemployment space. Her job is to break down the barriers, like finding childcare or transportation, to let her students focus on their studies to get a credential and find a new job.

“In our area we have county transit that will come and pick the students up and bring them to campus for their classes and take them home for a dollar and change,” said Clarkston. “We have a center on campus that provides gas cards, and grants that help with childcare. We also have some pretty amazing instructors. This one student could take transportation to class, but the service stopped before the class was over, so her instructor would take her home in the evenings.”

That extra step, that shared experience, the additional support – throw all of those things together and that’s what makes Mountain Empire a true community support system.

“I have the personal experience. It took me eight years to get a four-year degree. I worked in grocery stores for years. Once you get stuck in that flow, it feels like it’s the only thing you can do,” said Clarkston. “But I let my students know they’re not alone. It happened to me, but I eventually did complete and turn things around and get a better job. We’re with you every step of the way.”

If you’d like to learn more about FastForward training where you are, connect with your local Career Coach – like Sarah – to get started.