Overcoming difficult odds
Resident was out of a job, no diploma and no work on the horizon
GLOVERSVILLE — Back in 2015, Joseph E. Smith was down, but he refused to be out.
At 47 he faced a tough challenge. He was laid off from his job, didn’t have a high school diploma, and wanted to get back into the workforce.
“When you don’t have a high school diploma, the door is closed to a lot of employment options,” explained Laurie Bargstedt, director of Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery Board of Cooperative Educational Services Adult Literacy and Corrections Education.
Smith then put his shoulder to the task of attaining a diploma plus a heating, ventilation and air conditioning certificate through HFM BOCES, Fulton-Montgomery Community College and Workforce Solutions Center.
He was honored for his achievement Tuesday at Century House in Latham as one of 20 Outstanding Learners in New York State by the New York Association of Continuing/Community Education.
One of his teachers nominated him for the award because of his “persistence, attitudes, attendance, extra effort, and willingness to ask for guidance,” said Bargstedt.
She said he worked hard to accelerate his progress, gaining a high school diploma and finishing a heating, ventilation and air conditioning program with type 1 and 2 refrigerant usage certification. Each of these is task in itself, but Smith doubled-up on his workload and learned some valuable life lessons besides.
“Do not give up on your goals and certainly do not quit or drop out of school,” he advised other students in The Tower, the FMCC alumni newspaper.
“I was discouraged initially, especially after my first algebra class…I learned a valuable lesson–put my mind to it and push forward. And, seek help,” Smith said.
Smith had worked for Noteworthy, a manufacturer of promotional items, for 27 years. He moved for a higher wage to Fiber Glass Industries, where he remained for 10 years. When that company changed ownership, he was laid off. His attempts to gain employment did not pan out.
But in February 2015, he took a step to improve his life by attending an orientation to join a high school equivalency preparation class at the Gloversville Literacy Zone.
The area Workforce Solutions Center had referred him to the GLZ and helped him enroll in the state Labor Department’s 599 Training Program. This allowed him to receive unemployment benefits while attending a skills program leading to potential employment in the area.
Last winter Smith passed the exam for a high school diploma–except for one section, and he needed that diploma to get his degree from FMCC. He passed exam in the spring.
Despite the initial setback, “Joe stayed focused on his goal,” said Barghardt.
“He was determined to complete his education and enter a career that would provide him and his family with financial stability.”
Not only that, he helped other students with their class work and provided transportation to students who needed it,” she added.
Smith now works for Beech-Nut in Amsterdam.