A family tragedy set Piedmont Technical College (PTC) summer graduate Victoria Robbins on a course toward her degree in human services.

The Laurens woman is now an AmeriCorps phenomenon, working at the South Carolina Empowerment Center (SCEC). She fills her calendar to the max with personal, professional and volunteer responsibilities executed with love and compassion.

“One of my sisters accidentally overdosed on methadone and died. She had been a longtime addict,” Robbins said. “Drugs and alcohol have run rampant in my family for a long time. My sister drank while pregnant. That is where my heart bleeds. I got pregnant at age 16. I could never do those things. That is why I try so hard to reach out to teen moms. You can still have a life and have a kid. Is it easy? Not at all, but there are people out there who will help you.”

For two years, Robbins had a job at the state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), working in health care reimbursement. But that job was not fully satisfying. “I wanted to work in some way with youth,” she said. “You shape a generation by reaching out to those kids, so I went back to school.”

In her current role at SCEC in Laurens, Robbins works to provide counseling and resources to teenage mothers and is active in helping middle and high school students with job readiness training, resume writing and interviewing skills. The organization also helps families apply for food stamps, Medicaid and other government benefits, offers financial literacy assistance, free tax preparation services as well as operates a mobile food pantry out of a retired Laurens County Bookmobile converted for that purpose and distributes food boxes to schoolchildren and senior citizens.

“When I came to PTC, I already had a good bit of experience under my belt,” Robbins said. “I knew for sure that I had a network of people there that I could rely on. Most of my background is medical. Coming into the nonprofit sector was kind of new. My instructors were really awesome about answering questions and giving advice.”

New PTC graduate Dillon Morris of Prosperity in Newberry County said he got into the funeral services business by fluke.

“I was a senior in high school and had no idea what I wanted to do after. I took a job helping out with a friend’s dad. I didn’t really know what we would be doing,” he said. “He pulled into a cemetery, and he said, ‘You know I dig graves, right?’ Well, I worked with that fella for about two years. I was a grave-digger for the funeral home where I work now.”

Today, Morris is a funeral director at McSwain-Evans Funeral Home in Newberry. His family has a small farm, where he also helps out.

“When I am not at the funeral home, I do as much as I can around the farm,” he said. “I know that is what my daddy and granddaddy would want.”

The 20-year-old, who describes himself as small-town born and raised, plans to stay in the Newberry area. He appreciates the personal treatment he has received at PTC.

“As many people that go through the college, the professors make you feel like they cater to you personally,” he said. “I still get emails from Mr. Gantt (PTC instructor) checking on my progress and how I am getting along. Piedmont Tech is really catered toward the individual student.”

Submitted by Kristine Hartvigsen