Fifty-two-year-old Russell County native Lance Stapp saw the writing on the wall last
spring when rumors first started spreading about the closing of the Fruit of the Loom
factory in Jamestown. Having worked at the factory since 2003 and previously in the
90s, Stapp knew he would need an education to be able to get another job.
I knew at the time if it was going out there was nothing to replace it in Russell County, so I needed to get an education, said Stapp. Ive always wanted to go to college, but with raising a family and having to provide for them, I wasn't able to before.
Stapp chose Somerset Community College (SCC) for its technical programs and the easy commute from his home in Russell Springs. At first, he thought he'd go into electronics, since that's what he studied in the U.S. Navy after high school. But, when visiting SCCs website, a different program, Industrial Maintenance Technology, caught his attention since it is listed by KCTCS in the 2010-2016 Strategic Plan as a High Wage/High Demand job. He spoke with the program coordinator, Nick Tomlinson, who confirmed that graduates of the program are sought after by area businesses.
Stapps journey in becoming a college student didn't come easily. Before he even knew that he would be qualified for federal assistance under the U.S. Department of Labor once the factory closed, he realized he needed to be prepared.
I made plans to sell my home and everything I owned to be out of debt and ready to go to school, he said.
So, while he endured six to eight months of uncertainty regarding the closing of the factory and the approval of his worker adjustment assistance, Stapp sold his home, car and most of his belongings, then moved into a rented room and bought a less expensive commuter vehicle. Since his approval to receive the federal assistance, he was finally able to enroll in the spring term of 2015 and continues to provide proof of eligibility.
I wouldn't be approved to go to trade school unless I am able to pay my bills with the unemployment I receive and keep up my grades for two years, he said.
Stapp also has to show that he is attending classes and not dropping out.
Stapp remains positive after his unemployment and return to being a student after more than 30 years.
It was shaky getting here, but Im happy, he said. I love learning. I heard so many times (from other displaced workers) Im too old to go to school, but I look at it as an opportunity to learn. And, here at SCC, students and teachers have been down-to-earth and very helpful.
It was worth putting my belongings in storage and renting a room, stated Stapp. If I can get that associate degree, Id rather have that than a new car.