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Vermont Students Give Thanks and Give Back

Written by
VSAC Staff

Date
November 22, 2023

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Vermont Students Give Thanks

The Thanksgiving season is for giving thanks and giving back. In that spirit, we wanted to highlight three Vermont students we’ve profiled in 2023, who, thanks to the support of their families, their employers, and the VSAC counselors who guided them on their college and career paths, are on their way to giving back in a big way. Get re-introduced to John Dell’Anno of Shaftsbury, Dakota Eddy of Wallingford and David Tabaruka of Burlington.

John Dell’Anno, Shaftsbury / Adult Student, Nursing

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Over the last two decades, John Dell’Anno of Shaftsbury had built a career as a carpenter, working on high-end residential jobs. But in 2014, after suffering a few job-related injuries, he started thinking about a possible career change. The pandemic, John says, provided an additional dose of inspiration. 

“I wanted a better life for myself and my family. And I wanted to do something a little more meaningful than working on people’s second and third homes,” he says. “Seeing what nurses were going through during the pandemic, helping others, really struck a chord. It made me realize that I wanted to take care of people and help them be well.”

So, in 2019, while still working full-time at his carpentry job, John signed up for a couple of classes at Community College of Vermont (CCV): Anatomy & Physiology and Intro to Nutrition. He enjoyed the subjects, and he realized that nursing would make a good fit for his empathetic personality. So he decided to go back to school. 

But to continue, he would need some financial help. 

CCV connected John with VSAC’s Educational Opportunity Center, which works with adults looking to continue their education. In 2022, with VSAC’s help, John received a grant to take additional courses at Southwestern Vermont Technical Center toward his LNA certification. That program opened the door for a job opportunity at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. 

“After working there for a year, I was still trying to figure out how to make it all work, in terms of working full-time, going to school, and being there for my family. It’s definitely a juggling act,” says John, who is married with a 12-year-old daughter. “All along the way, Martha [McCaughin, his EOC counselor at VSAC] was a strong advocate, telling me that I could do it. She found grants and scholarships for me, and she was the key to making it financially feasible.”

This past summer, John became one of the first participants in the RN Pipeline Pathway Program, offered through a partnership between VSAC, Vermont Business Roundtable, the Community College of Vermont, Vermont State University, and his employer, Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. The program allows SVMC employees to work 24 hours a week at the hospital, then take 12 hours of classes at Vermont State University, while still being paid and remaining eligible for benefits. “I jumped right on it, and thankfully I was chosen,” John says. When he finishes the program, John will be an RN with an associate’s degree.

“In just three years, my life will have changed dramatically,” says John. “Going back to school as an adult is a daunting task. This program has been a really great opportunity. To get to this point on my own would have been very scary. This is a huge transition in my life, a life change. I have a lot of people to thank. Martha at VSAC is certainly one of them. I’m also grateful for the tremendous support I have received from my wife, Judi, and my daughter, Lilah. They are sacrificing right alongside me.”

Dakota Eddy, Wallingford / University of Southern Maine, Sociology Major

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Growing up, it was always expected that Dakota Eddy would go to college. “But the focus was more on just ‘going to college’ than about what I wanted to do with it,” she recalls. This troubled Dakota, who didn’t know exactly what she wanted to do. 

“So I went to Nate [Hickey, her VSAC GEAR UP counselor at her high school]. We met regularly, and we looked into the programs that different schools offered. He showed me where to get the information I needed from each of the schools, and he also helped me build the confidence to reach out to people from the schools with specific questions.” 

Through VSAC, Dakota says, she was able to get a lot of the information that she felt she needed to make an informed decision. She says it also made her feel more in charge of the process. “Nate helped me figure out what I was really interested in, and how college could help get me there. With that mindset, it became more of MY decision.” 

Now in her sophomore year at the University of Southern Maine, Dakota has taken time out of her schedule to share her love of her school with other Vermont students who are considering applying. “I think it’s cool to meet with prospective students, because there aren’t too many Vermont kids here on campus. I always notice when I see Vermont plates in parking lots,” she laughs. “It feels cool knowing there might be more kids from my area coming here. And it’s a great school, so it’s nice being able to recommend a place that they will likely do really well at.” 

She also mentors fellow students through her work in the Recovery Oriented Campus Center, known as “the ROCC,” a student-run organization that offers support to students who are struggling. 

Eventually, she hopes to do some sort of work in the justice system to help teens and juveniles – perhaps in a restorative justice role, or by advocating on their behalf as a public defense lawyer. “Especially in the area I grew up in, I watched a lot of kids go down not-so-good paths,” she says. “Among their peers, [using drugs] was seen as ‘cool,’ and a lot of adults just saw these students as problems rather than people who were struggling. But I really want to help these young people to get help, or get into recovery, to set them up for a better future.”

As far as her studies, Dakota says, “I chose to major in sociology because I really like looking at society and how it affects individuals. I think that’s really interesting. I love the idea that I will be able to use this information to help people.”

David Tabaruka, Burlington / Former Adult Student, Current Financial Controller, CCV

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When David Tabaruka started as the Financial Controller for the Community College of Vermont last year, the new job felt like a homecoming and a triumph. “I said, hey, I’ve been here before – but this time, I’m part of the staff rather than a student,” he says with a broad smile. “It feels really good to look back and see how far I’ve come over the last 18 years.”

David’s journey began with multiple wars and a long wait for refugee resettlement. His family fled Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, and he spent his teenage years in a refugee camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo. After applying to the United Nations for refugee resettlement in the United States, the family’s application was finally approved, and David arrived in Winooski on November 30, 2004, with his mother, sister, brothers, and nephews. The temperature was below freezing, the wind was blowing, and the only English word he knew how to say was “yes.” He was 26 years old.

He credits the Vermont Refugee Program and his first U.S. employer, Rhino Foods, for supporting him and his family as they figured out their new life. David spoke four languages – French, Lingala, Swahili and Kinyarwanda – but barely any English, so he took ESL classes in the mornings and worked second shift in the evenings.

As he got more comfortable with the language, David recalls that “one thing that was very important to me was my education.” Both he and his brother connected with VSAC’s Educational Opportunity Center and worked with counselor Monica Sargent. “Monica is close to my heart. She did so much for us,” David recalls. He attended CCV for two years, then earned a degree in international business from Champlain College, then got his master’s degree in finance and accounting from Southern New Hampshire University.

All of that was possible, he says, “because I walked away from CCV with zero debt, thanks to the help I received from VSAC.”

“It’s been a blast,” he says of his first year managing CCV’s finances. “I love that I’m now giving back to a school that gave me so much. I want to use my role at CCV to inspire a new generation to learn and work hard and keep growing themselves. I love that I can help others like me, and I enjoy serving a community that has welcomed me and helped me in starting over.”

If you or someone you know is interested in pursuing a career, a career change, or sharpening their job skills, reach out to us at VSAC. Contact us at vsac.org/contact.

From all of us at VSAC, Happy Thanksgiving!