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Two years ago, Hollee Hook was facing a mid-life career change while grieving the death of her longtime partner and raising her 13-year old son, Ethan, by herself.

Today, Hollee has a new career in surgical technology, thanks to Western Dakota Tech and the Uplifting Parents Program at Catholic Social Services, where she found the help and mentorship she needed to accomplish it all.

Hollee graduated from WDT in May with an associate degree in surgical technology. She started a new job at Avera Sacred Heart Hospital in Yankton in June and is thrilled with her new career.

“I absolutely love it. I have zero regrets and I’m very happy with my decision,” she said. “Not only do I feel well-prepared for the job by the WDT surgical technology program, but my new employers are very impressed with my skills, too.”

While WDT provided Hollee with an academic path to career success, it was the Uplifting Parents (UP) program that provided the mentorship she needed as a single parent to accomplish her educational goal and keep herself and her son, Ethan, from falling into poverty. After her parents retired and sold the screen printing business where she’d worked for many years, Hollee, 48,  knew she’d need job retraining. “It was impossible for me to find another job at that same income level.”

“I was trying to stay out of poverty, and UP absolutely helped me do that,” she said.

UP helps low-income single parents who are in the last two years of earning a college degree or other educational goal. It takes a two-generation approach to help those families earn a living wage, escape poverty and provide stability and opportunity for their children.  To date, the program has served 43 single parents and their 84 children by providing intensive case management services and monthly stipends. UP helps them find appropriate resources to meet their housing, healthcare, childcare, and transportation needs while completing a college degree or other educational goal. So far, 27 single mothers have earned degrees in high-demand career fields, such as nursing, accounting or healthcare.

While UP offers parenting education, financial literacy classes, and many other services, the heart of the program is the supportive relationship that develops between families and their UP mentor. Hollee was accepted into UP in the summer of 2017, one year shy of earning her surgical technology degree. She was referred to UP by her WDT student success coach Fawn Hall. WDT is one of 30 UP Coalition partners. Coalition partners nominate UP applicants and works closely with CSS mentors to ensure student success.

UP mentor Hannah Ceremuga soon became Hollee’s friend and cheerleader.

“The program required I meet with her twice a month, but it quickly became that I wanted to meet with her,” Hollee said. “We instantly had a connection. I was so glad to see her twice a month.”

Like most families, Ethan and Hollee experienced some “teen” moments.

“Ethan was being defiant towards me, and Hannah basically counseled both of us as a family.  He went with me to see Hannah and she talked to us together. That really helped,” she said.

Hollee was grateful for the personal and professional support she found through the Uplifting Parents program at CSS. “The biggest thing was having somebody help me be a single parent.  More than anything, it was an extra shoulder to lean on.”

Ceremuga and CSS are happy to provide a shoulder, and other support, too.

“It has been an absolute joy and privilege to walk alongside Hollee and Ethan on their journey and I look forward to seeing everything they will accomplish in the future,” Ceremuga said.

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