Project Learn helps adults find resources they need to re-focus on education
“Getting over my fear of going back to school brought me to a new place in which I never thought I would be.”
Not only did Project Learn of Summit County help Doug Kirchner re-visit academics to earn a diploma – years after his high school classmates walked across the stage – but also the organization helped him learn more about himself.
Kirchner was never good at school, earning mostly Fs as a teenager. He dropped out of high school in the early 1990s and ended up working in the music industry for several years.
“It paid the bills,” Kirchner says, adding, “I toured with national bands, either as a member of the band or as road manager.” He eventually owned an independent record company, No Compromise.
In the meantime, Kirchner got married and had a daughter named Skyler. But his divorce a few years later forced Kirchner to stop touring so he would not lose custody of his daughter.
“I was 25 with no job aspiration or education,” he explains.
Kirchner did find a few management jobs at clubs in and near Cleveland, but after getting re-married, he found out his daughter had cancer at age 6.
In remission for several years, Skyler was diagnosed with brain cancer at age 11. She was terminal by the age of 12.
But before Skyler passed away in November 2011, she had one special request of her father.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Skyler asked Kirchner one day. He had since closed several cell phone stores he owned to take care of his daughter and was unable to find a job.
“I didn’t finish high school; I didn’t have my GED,” Kirchner says. “But Skyler insisted I go for it after she died, since I would have more time to focus.”
Kirchner visited the Summit County Ohio Means Jobs Center, began collecting unemployment and eventually met with Project Learn. He began attending the organization’s GED education classes in December 2011.
“I hadn’t been in a classroom in decades; so much had changed,” Kirchner says. “In fact, everyone in my group had been out of school for a long time – no one was under 25 years old – and some were learning English for the first time.”
Spending two or three nights a week with his classmates made them seem more like family in the end.
“We were like a cheer leading squad for each other,” Kirchner says, adding he helped teach American history to one non-native English speaker so he could pass his citizenship test as well.
Kirchner earned his GED in June 2012 with much appreciation for his instructors.
“My biggest hurdle was ultimately getting over my fear of going back to school. But the teachers I had in the Project Learn class at the Cuyahoga Falls Library wanted me to pass. They didn’t just teach; they encouraged me.”
Before his daughter passed away, Kirchner had told her he always wanted to be a police officer.
Although the age cut-off for enrollment to Munroe Falls Police Academy was below Kirchner’s age when he applied, the connections he made during Project Learn’s graduation ceremony helped him enroll at Kent State University instead.
“I was signed up for classes that first semester before I even knew I was accepted!” Kirchner recalls, adding he met with Kent State’s Bridges Program for the GED Scholars Initiative during the graduation ceremony.
Being the first member of his family to attend college, Kirchner is proud to earn between a 2.75 and 3.0 GPA, while taking 15 to 18 credit hours each semester. He takes most of his classes at Kent State’s main campus, but he also takes some classes online.
“I never thought I would go to college,” says Kirchner, now a junior in the applied conflict management program. He hopes to graduate with a minor in criminal justice as well in August 2017.
While working two jobs, including an internship, completing the work for a full load of classes is not always easy for Kirchner. But the opportunities he’s had so far make it worth it.
Through his part-time job at SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Inc., Kirchner was the body guard of Dr. Ben Carson and CBS Evening News correspondents during the 2016 Republican National Convention (RNC) in Cleveland.
“The climates I’ve worked in were never that scary,” Kirchner recalls. “I had body guarded presidents and CEOs of companies before, but never people with such high profiles as I did at the RNC.”
Kirchner’s second job is youth leader in the treatment center at the Multi-County Juvenile Attention System in Canton, Ohio.
“I want to be a mediator – a sounding board – for kids; I want to help them get ready to leave the center,” Kirchner explains, adding his ultimate goal is to be a probation officer for juveniles. “I want these kids to have a future.”
Now, as a father of three boys, Kirchner knows how important it is for children to have adults to speak for them – “to teach them where to go in life.”
Paying It Forward
If it wasn’t for Project Learn, Kirchner says he would not be where he is today.
“Their job is to place people where they can best succeed at earning an education,” Kirchner says. “They make positive changes in people’s lives.”
His GED instructor, Kathleen Collins, and classroom volunteer Chuck Hunter have made huge impacts on Kirchner. He still visits their classes from time to time to speak with current students and encourage them to keep furthering their education.
“The longer you wait to go back, the more likely hopelessness is to set in,” he says. “You just have to jump in and try it, pass or fail.”
As Kirchner says, many people are afraid to go back and earn their GED; they don’t know what to expect. But connecting with and setting goals with Project Learn will help them help you.
Kirchner now lives with his wife, Katie, and their three sons, Ian, 11; Mason, 6; and Eli, 4.
You can find more information about Project Learn on its website at www.projectlearnsummit.org.