To say Makalea Alexander had a troubled life as a teenager and young adult is an understatement.
–Years of addiction to illegal drugs, both as a teenager and then relapsing several times as an adult
–In and out of detention centers as a teen
–Committed theft, with charges later dismissed
–Booted out of the Army
–Separated from her husband years later
— Battled with depression throughout her life
But her life changed dramatically for the better when Alexander enrolled in Roane State
Community College and received help from the American Job Center at Wartburg.
Today, the 33-year-old resident of the tiny town of Sunbright in Morgan County is a 2017 graduate of the community college’s Occupational Therapy Assistant Program. She’s working at two nursing homes as well as an outpatient clinic in Oneida, making more money than she’s ever made in her life.
Now, she wants to give back by helping launch a drug prevention program in Morgan and Scott counties titled “Open Eyes, Open Heart.”
“I love it,” Alexander said of her new lease on life. She credits Roane State and the American Job Center for the turnaround.
“Roane State helped me get my life back on track, and now I’m able to provide for my daughters,” Alexander said. “The teachers were extremely encouraging and told me I have to believe in myself. They encouraged me 100 percent.”
Alexander expressed her appreciation to Roane State educators like Dr. Teri Gergen, director of the OTA program, and Susan Sain, OTA field coordinator, for the profound changes in her life.
“She is genuine,” Gergen said of Alexander. “Her love for others and drive to serve those in need is both authentic and undeniable. I feel honored to have been a part of her journey.”
The American Job Center at Wartburg, which administers federal funding through the Workforce Investment Opportunity Act (WIOA), helped Alexander with travel expenses, textbooks and the costs to take required certification tests.
“I’m very proud of her,” Job Center Director Brenda Melton said. “If WIOA had a poster child, it would be Makalea.”
Alexander was at first uncertain whether the American Job Center would be able to help her. “But she came in with a purpose and resolve,” Melton said. “She wanted to be the best she could be. She was a sheer joy to work with.”
Alexander, describing herself as a “recovering drug addict,” said she did “everything under the sun” in terms of illegal drugs while she was a teenager.
She said her parents “got me cleaned up enough to go into the Army in an attempt to save my life.”
While there, she drove trucks but succumbed to drugs again, doing cocaine and crack cocaine and then failing a drug test. She left the Army in 2005 with a less-than-honorable discharge.
She gave birth to her two daughters, but her marriage unraveled eight years later.
Battling depression, Alexander went to a doctor and was prescribed the anti-depressant Xanax. She became addicted, and her initial venture into higher education – taking prerequisites for Roane State – was a blur.
“For three months, I didn’t know who I was, and I failed English because of it. I was not a model student.”
She kicked the Xanax addiction and worked at low-wage jobs –including mixing “mud” for building fireplaces –and was later accepted into Roane State’s OTA program.
She started at Roane State in 2015, and “the program was amazing.”
Despite ongoing adversities, she persisted, thanks to support and encouragement from Roane State staff. “Teri Gergen said I had ‘grit,’” she recalled.
“Roane State helped me get my life back on track,” Alexander said. “I want other people to get an education and feel the way I feel now. The college gave me confidence in myself.”
(Picture used for story) Makalea Alexander with her Dad, Mark Posey)