LTADD helps family after plant closure

November 14, 2008

The News-Enterprise ran a story on November 11, 2008 that show's how the LTADD helped a displaced worker. The story is below:

Loss of job turns from 'devastated' to delight
Former Gates employee one month away from earning teaching degree

By JEFF D'ALESSIOHARDIN COUNTY - For nearly 12 years, Mike Bell worked at the Gates Rubber plant in Elizabethtown. He thought it may be the last place he would work in his adult life.

Then came plant layoffs and finally a decision to close the belt and hose plant in late 2003, leaving about 400 people without jobs.

"He was devastated when he got the news,'' said Becky Bell, Mike's wife. "We both were. The first reaction is you panic about what you were going to do.''

There was still a home mortgage to pay and bills coming in. The Bells were down to being a one-income family and Mike Bell was faced with an uncertain future.

He had attended North Hardin High School, but didn't graduate.

"I was more interested in working and making money,'' Mike said. "After that first pay check when I was a kid, I just wanted to work and make money. I'd work as much as I could.''

And with the workload at the old Fred's Texaco in Radcliff and at an ice cream truck came slumping grades.

"It wasn't that I couldn't do the work,'' Mike said. "I just didn't do the work. I wanted to make money and I'd be in school waiting until I could get out and get to work.''

It's been an interesting journey for the 47-year-old, who needed to earn his GED just so he could gain employment at Gates.

But when the plant closed, Bell was forced to make a career change.

"Really, we were a little lost at first,'' Mike said. When he left Gates he was making around $16 or $17 an hour.

When he was at NHHS, he had admired those who taught and wondered if someday he could teach.

"The teachers all seemed so knowledgeable,'' Mike said. "They seemed to know everything about what they were teaching.''

Faced with unemployment and the possibility of securing grants available through the Lincoln Trail Area Development District, Bell decided on a career path to take.

He wanted to be a teacher.

"This was his opportunity,'' his wife said.

One month from today, Bell will graduate from Western Kentucky University with a teaching degree.

It has been a trying ride from leaving the comfort of factory work and a steady paycheck to life as a college student where he was twice the age of most of his fellow students at Elizabethtown Community and Technical College.

"Talk about a culture shock,'' Mike said. "The first few semesters were tough. I'd come home and say if I'm not smart enough, I can at least go drive a truck because I can drive a truck.''

That first semester, his grades were all As and Bs.

"The more I went, the easier it became getting used to everything,'' Mike said.

Bell and 149 other former Gates workers took advantage of grants available through the Lincoln Trail Area Development District. With the factory closings, the district received $425,000 from the Kentucky Department for Training and Re-employment to supplement dislocated worker programs.

Dislocated workers could receive as much as $4,000 per year for two years. The grants covered education expenses for four years for those wanting to become science, math or special education teachers.

Bell decided on math and science.

He considering the possibility of teaching after reading an article in The News-Enterprise about the grant. Also, because his job was relocated to Mexico, a provision related to the North American Free Trade Agreement allowed him to draw unemployment while attending school.

That allowed the family to have additional income to back Becky's job as a nurse at Hardin Memorial Hospital.

Today, Mike Bell is finishing up his student-teaching requirement in eighth-grade math at East Hardin Middle School.

"The kids dress weird just like I did,'' he said with a laugh. "And they try to get by with as much as they can.''

Bell, who was named WKU's Extended Campus Student of the Month for November, said he's already had a few job offers but isn't sure where he'll end up. He said he would prefer to stay in the Hardin County Schools system.

"He is very conscientious about his job and wants all students to feel success,'' said Carla Wallace. Bell is student teaching in Wallace's classroom this semester.

"He will go out of his way to help a child to understand a concept that they are having difficulty in understanding.

"He will be an asset to the school that hires him to teach,'' Wallace added.

The journey is almost over for Bell.

"It was rough when everything first happened,'' Becky said. "There were many times when I think he wanted to come home and put his hands up and just give up. But he's gone straight through with no breaks."

Mike didn't want to go through with the gap and gown part of graduating, but his wife insisted. She wanted to enjoy everything about her husband's graduation.

"He's earned this and I want to enjoy it,'' she said. "I'm just so proud of him for accomplishing what he has.''

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