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Life Learning Center in Covington provides holistic approach to helping at-risk people


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Donnie Cook was down, but thanks to Life Learning Center he was not out. After the former pharmacist fell into a life of substance abuse, the Covington nonprofit center helped him get his life back on track. He now has a ‘great job’ driving a truck. (Photo provided)


 

By Ryan Clark
KyForward correspondent
 

In a former life, Donnie Cook was a practicing pharmacist, a college graduate, a professional with a career and a future.
 

But that future got sidetracked, as Cook fell into a life of substance abuse. He did time for possession and transportation of a large quantity of marijuana. He lost his license and could never practice pharmacy again.
 

“I became an over-educated nobody,” Cook says. “So, I was a convicted felon with no license to do what I had done all my life since college graduation. And getting a job as a convicted felon is very difficult, as most employers do discriminate in this area even though they won’t admit it and won’t hire felons or even give them a chance.”
 

Where could Cook go to get his life back on track? His parole officer introduced him to the Life Learning Center in Covington, a nonprofit that helps at-risk individuals with seminars, classes and other opportunities to transition back into the real world, taking a holistic approach to the real challenges in five domains: emotional, financial, physical, spiritual and relationships.
 

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LLC offers a full educational re-training program, among other things. (Photo from LLC)

“LLC treated me with respect and dignity as a human being and didn’t care about my past,” Cook says. “They only wanted to help me get a new lease on my life.”
 

The idea for the LLC started in 1999, when a group of community leaders recognized no one was working to address the problems of at-risk individuals struggling due to “a lack of education, social isolation and chronic unemployment,” says spokesman Erich Switzer, the center’s director of awareness. “There were ‘Band-Aids’ but no place where people could learn how to live.”
 

By 2006 the Life Learning Center was born, its goal to prepare the at-risk population for living-wage jobs – and a full life. From 2006-09, 461 people completed the program with 315 securing employment – a 68 percent success rate according to the LLC. The average starting wage grew from $7.61 in 2006 to $9.91 in 2009.
 

“They helped me in so many ways,” Cook says. “Their overall program can’t help but instill confidence and success for anyone willing to listen and learn.”
 

Cook says he took classes on how to be positive, optimistic, focused and motivated. He learned skills necessary for job interviews, for day-to-day people interaction and communication. 
 

“Anything I asked them about, they tried to help me,” Cook says. “It’s all about helping people down-and-out like I was at that point in my life.” 
 

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LLC’s new curriculum teaches individuals how to find solid employment, live a life of purpose, achieve financial stability and attain a healthy lifestyle. (Photo from LLC)

Things changed in 2009, when the LLC re-evaluated its mission and goals. Once again there seemed to be a community need — a need the center might be able to fill. Research of the area workforce revealed a need for more training for workers to actually keep a job. To bridge that gap, the LLC developed a new curriculum – the Foundations for a Better Life, a course that “teaches individuals how to find solid employment, live a life of purpose, achieve financial stability and attain a healthy lifestyle,” Switzer says. Through July 2013, 873 individuals have completed the Working for a Better Life program, with 66 percent securing employment.
 

Now there is a full educational re-training for at-risk individuals: They can learn how to come back into society, get a job, and keep it.

Cook, now 65, has worked as a truck driver for the past four years. “I have a great job and full-time employment for as long as I want,” he says. “They helped me in so many ways to regain my confidence and self-esteem and realize that I had potential and could restart my life in all the right ways.”
 

Switzer says that through July 2013, 873 individuals have completed the Working for a Better Life program, with 65 percent securing employment. Sixty-eight percent of employed members retained their employment for six months and 63 percent retained their employment for 12 months. The average starting wage for 2012 grew to $12.28.  
 

It’s been an extremely rewarding journey for those working with the organization as well.
 

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LLC was formed in 2006 to help people prepare for living-wage jobs. (Photo from LLC)

“My decision to get involved was based on my personal desire to be a voice for struggling individuals in our community plagued by a variety of barriers,” says Denise Govan, executive director of the LLC. “I saw the opportunity to help individuals focus on a long-term solution for their lives rather than living crisis-to-crisis.”
 

And now the LLC is ready for another expansion. Due to the need for space to offer more classes (now they can only offer six) as well as a goal to join forces with more partner agencies to provide added opportunities for students, the Center is planning to move to a larger space in 2014.  
 

Although Govan says the entity is not ready to make an official announcement, one of the factors for the move is a growing number of at-risk individuals in Northern Kentucky. “The center is focused on making the community a better place and wants to be positioned to help more people reach their highest potential,” she says.
 

For Cook, further expansion makes all the sense in his world.
 

“The whole (LLC) staff is excellent and should be commended for the job and service they perform,” he says. “People and organizations like LLC make a huge difference in peoples’ lives.”
 

Ryan Clark is the new media editor and an instructor at Northern Kentucky University.


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