When Linda Roth Hamrick found herself at the end of her rope, fighting seemingly insurmountable challenges that kept her from living her best life, that kept her from achieving her dreams, she did the only thing she knew to do—she followed in her mother’s footsteps and enrolled in classes at McDowell Technical Community College.
That act of courage became the catalyst that changed her life and led her and her two young children out of poverty, just as it has done for thousands of others since McDowell Tech was founded nearly 55 years ago.
As a teenager, Linda found herself in the unenviable position of being a young, unwed mother—a teen mom, in today’s parlance. To say that life was difficult for her doesn’t do justice to where Linda found herself. She had grown up in a poor home, living relatively “off-the-grid,” and having another mouth to feed seemed to pale in comparison to the challenge of learning how to take care of an infant when she was only a ninth-grader herself. She dropped out of school and did the best she could to take care of her son.
But soon there was another child, a daughter, and financially and socially, things got even more tough for her, as she was raising two children alone—without their father.
When Linda was in her mid-20’s, her mom, Trudy Roth, graduated from McDowell Tech (Class of 2004) as an adult learner and went on to additional studies at Gardner Webb University. Among other factors, watching her mom go back to school almost 40 years after she had graduated from high school became something of an encouragement to her. Linda reached out to folks in McDowell Tech’s G.E.D (General Equivalency Diploma) program and began studying to take the G.E.D. test.
When she obtained her G.E.D., she enrolled in curriculum classes at the college and took a work study job in the college library to help make ends meet while she was going to school. In 2009, she graduated with an associate’s degree from McDowell Tech and began working on her bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Appalachian State University, which she completed two years later.
In 2017, Linda finished her master’s degree in Social Work and went on to complete a NC Family Development Certificate from Duke University. She was on the Dean’s List throughout her academic career.
“Linda’s story is a beautiful one,” said Dr. Brian S. Merritt, MTCC President. “After graduating from McDowell Tech, Linda worked towards her bachelor’s and master’s degrees and has made it her life’s work to help others who find themselves in need, often in crisis situations. She meets people where they are at, often at the end of their rope, and offers them a hand-up, encouragement and wisdom she gained from walking some of the same roads they’ve walked. Last month, Linda was recognized as an Outstanding Alumna from McDowell Tech, someone who is giving back to both individuals and the community in myriad ways.”
Over the years, Linda has worked or interned in McDowell County’s public library and youth sex offender program, taught in McDowell Tech’s High School Equivalency program, spoken at civic and graduation events, and counseled and supported victims of domestic violence and those in poverty. She also ran a Kinship Provider’s Program, acting as a liaison for families raising non-birth children as a way to stabilize families in a six-county region in Western North Carolina. Her passion, enthusiasm and empathy are unmatched. She has been where people are and has the strongest of desire to help folks walk away from poverty and despair, hopefully never to return.
It is no surprise that Linda was, for several years, a Life Coach for Community Action Agency. She helped people develop the life skills and mindset to navigate life’s challenges and improve their socio-economic status. To those who know her, Linda is unparalleled in her enthusiasm for life and nature. As a life coach, she once told folks, “Just a reminder from your friendly life coach to be kind. Super proud of all the brave people that got up this morning in spite of their demons. Hope everyone has love in their hearts and something warm in (their) bellies.” “Hope everyone has love in their hearts” is one of her favorite mantras.
In April, Linda began a new job leading a pilot program for the McDowell Local Food Advisory Council through the NC Healthy Opportunities Program. Working with individuals who are food insecure on a daily basis is as rewarding as it is demanding. Symbolically, life has come full-circle for her, from her days as a single mom raising two kids with hardly two nickels to rub together, to a career helping others who find themselves in similar situations.
As her friend and former boss, Gabrielle Thompson, recently commented about Linda, “Her outgoing personality and accomplishments have been the impetus for others to finish their education, find community help for addictions and other issues, and connect with jobs for career success. She has been, and continues to be, a role model for students, other (MTCC) alumni, her friends, and her family.”
“Regardless of where students find themselves—unemployed, underemployed, or needing to gain some momentum in life—our doors are always open” said Dr. Merritt. “We make it our daily mission to promote workforce development with student-centered, affordable, high-quality, lifelong learning opportunities.”
MTCC is still tuition-free for eligible students until 2023. If you or someone you know needs someone to light the path to economic freedom, success and personal fulfillment, call McDowell Tech today (828-652-6021), or visit www.mcdowelltech.edu/learnandgrow/
Linda Roth Hamrick has made it her life’s work to help others find their way out of poverty and other unfortunate life circumstances that she once found herself in. She is known to many as an “Encourager-in-Chief.” Last year, for example, Jessie Conners tagged Linda in a Facebook post and said, “Thank you for being you and encouraging me from the time we met. I’ll never forget the day, riding in your car, you looked at me and said, ‘One day you’ll call me and tell me you graduated.’ That day finally came!! You’ve helped me in so many ways. Thank you.”