Melissa Stracks, Anthem College in Maryland Heights, Missouri

Anthem College North Woman Fights Through Strife to Find Success 9/2/09
All Melissa Stracks wanted was a stable job. She wound up finding so much more.
Two years ago, Stracks visited the Missouri Career Center in Warrenton looking for a place to piece together a resume. Working various jobs that either didn’t have enough hours or the pay was too low; she knew she needed to get to a place where she could support her family and herself.

“I had to do something,” said Stracks, of Hawk Point.

For Stracks, her life is about hardships. She quit high school in the middle of her sophomore year, was married, and had two children by the time she turned 20.
In her relationship, it was not uncommon for her abusive ex-husband to sabotage every job she had by showing up and making a scene at the workplace. In six years, the family had move a total of seven times. From threats of being killed to thoughts of committing suicide, Stracks was looking for an escape. Finally, one day, she packed up and left. It was a decision she doesn’t look back on.

There were points that I was so depressed that I thought my life was going to (stink) forever,” she recalls. After learning about the services offered by the Career Center, Stracks entered the Workforce Investment Act state-funded program to pay for schooling to become a surgical technician.

From there, she attended Allied College North for 15 months, determined to complete the program, despite having to overcome many hurdles before receiving her certificate.
From caring for five children, dealing with her mother’s hospitalization, and even facing problems with transportation, Stracks was determined to finish her schooling and have something to show for it. She willed her way to a perfect 4.0 grade point average.

“There was no way I wasn’t going to finish this,” Stracks said. “I was determined that I wasn’t going to get less than an ‘A’.”

Stracks made quite an impression at a three-month internship at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital. After looking for employment for six months to no avail, the hospital created a surgical tech position just for her last April.

Stracks was extremely excited to find out that the hospital position included medical and life insurance and a retirement fund. This was the first time she had a job that offered her benefits. “I feel like this is the beginning,” Stracks asserts.

Stracks’ perseverance caught the attention of others, in particular, the case-workers at the Career Center.

On Aug. 17, she received the Individual Achievement plaque, an award given to a nominated Career Center customer who successfully reached their employment or training goals while overcoming significant obstacles.

Next month, Stracks will attend the Governor’s Conference to be held in St. Louis Sept. 9-10. She will be recognized for her recent employment success and have the opportunity to meet and be photographed with Gov. Jay Nixon.

Alice Meyer, a case-worker at the Career Center, has marveled at Stracks’ determination to thrive despite facing constant adversity. “Some stick out more than others because they are so determined,” Meyer said. “When you highlight their accomplishments, they will cry. It’s the most humbling thing. No one should be in their middle 20s and cry because somebody told them something good.”

After remarrying in 2005, Stracks gave birth to a fifth girl. Stracks, whose children range in age from 4 to 13, is thankful for her husband’s help in allowing her to reach goals that she thought could never be obtained. “I have learned to live on an interesting budget in my lifetime,” Stracks said. “That is what I told my husband. I can make us live and scrape by on nothing. I have done it many times.” Stracks plans on continuing her education. She wants to eventually obtain her associate’s and bachelor’s degrees and move up to being a physician’s assistant. As Meyer can attest to, Stracks shouldn’t be underestimated.

“There are a lot of unfinished things in my life,” Stracks said. “I don’t want to stop here. I have a whole plan beyond this.”

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