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Amber Wescott: Education will unlock a better future — for her children & the community
“My journey started with a divorce,” recalls 37-year-old Amber Wescott. Three years ago, she was a stay-at-home mom, living in St. Albans with three children ages 9 to 12. Supporting them on her own was a struggle, so she decided to go back to school to train for a profession that would help her better support her family.
Amber enrolled in the dental hygienist program at Vermont Technical College. She chose the dental field because her own experience growing up in poverty fueled a personal commitment to promote better health care, certainly for her own children, but also for the larger community of disadvantaged Vermonters.
“I want to give back to my community. The community has always been there for me,” she recalls. “I’ve lived in poverty my whole life. I certainly don't want that for my children.” And even if children have to grow up amid the many disadvantages of a low-income household, Amber says, “it should not cost them their health.”
While Amber was incredibly motivated to gain an education, she struggled to cover the costs.
“I started at CCV with grants and loans. It was a huge struggle. I didn’t know about the scholarships that were available. I didn't know who to contact.”
All that changed, though, with a chance encounter and a very fortuitous conversation.
“One day I was at CCV in Saint Albans, and (VSAC Outreach Counselor) Karen McGovern came into the building. I introduced myself. I told her I wanted to become a hygienist, but I would need to put it off because I couldn't afford it.”
[SH1] Amber's decision to share her story with Karen was the beginning of her journey with VSAC’s Educational Opportunity Center, being recognized this week for 30 years of helping Vermonters. The two ended up scheduling an appointment to talk about financial aid options, and they met several times thereafter to strategize and figure out the best way forward for Amber.
“Karen recommended me for a scholarship, which I won. It helped me cover the cost of the next semester,” Amber said. “That scholarship is renewed every year, so I work my butt off in school to have a high GPA so I can maintain my scholarships.”
VSAC scholarships have been instrumental to Amber and to her education.
“It’s not like searching the Internet for different scholarships. I could be spending days on end looking for scholarships online,” Amber said. “And then, you don't know if they’re safe, and it’s very time-consuming.” Under VSAC’s process, she said, “I had to write only one letter, and it went to all of [the organizations offering scholarships for adult students]. It's all so much more straightforward. I have been very fortunate.”
Along with the critical scholarship support, Amber also credits the strong emotional support she has received from EOC.
“VSAC‘s Educational Opportunity Center is wonderful. Every time I call, I've always had great conversations with them. They've been really helpful. They are invested in me and in the community. They want to help people reach their goals and dreams,” Amber says, noting her own excitement as her graduation date nears and her own dreams are coming to fruition.
Amber's goal when she completes her degree is to begin offering dental therapy for underserved communities in Vermont.
“I want to stay in the area and offer dental therapy. There is a huge need,” she says. “A lot of folks don’t have access to dental care. As a dental therapist, you can work adjacent to a dentist, not totally under their supervision, because you are similar to a dentist.” That higher-level specialization will allow Amber to reach more people.
With two semesters of school remaining, Amber is also looking forward to the opportunity to create more stability for her family.
“I want them to feel secure. That the lights won't get shut off, that there will always be food. And I want them to go to college,” she adds. “Education beyond K-12 is super important.”
Amber wants her children to have the access to higher education and the encouragement to go on to college that she lacked growing up.
“My mom and dad didn't specifically support us in going to college. It was ‘work hard and your life will be better.’ Yes, working hard can help, but education is really important too. It gets you to places that you can’t get to otherwise.”
Educational Opportunity Center: 30 years helping Vermont adults achieve success
Ready to take the next step in your career? Considering a class, certification, career training, or college program? Whether you’re starting for the first time, returning to school after a gap, or are an avid lifelong learner, VSAC is here to help. The Educational Opportunity Center program at VSAC serves adults who do not yet have a 4-year degree. Most adults served through EOC are the first in their families to go to college and have financial barriers to pursuing their goals beyond high school. VSAC EOC counselors throughout the state help with career exploration, education and training options, and financial aid applications.
Our EOC counselors can help you:
- Plan your career path and explore education options
- Get financial aid to help pay for college or career training
- Set yourself up for success in school
- Learn from our weekly Zoom Room on a variety of topics
Ready to access these services and more? Contact a VSAC EOC team member by calling 877-961-4369. Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay in touch. We’re here for you.
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