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With a different ball on a different court, Chris Turley plays it forward in a big way

Chris Turley, a beneficiary of the Career Track program, went on to become director of the program, a part of Bluegrass Area Development District. He recently was named director of BGADD's Workforce Services.

Chris Turley, a beneficiary of the Career Track program, went on to become director of the program, a part of Bluegrass Area Development District. He recently was named director of BGADD’s Workforce Services.


By Kristy Robinson Horine
Special to KyForward

It was a simple setup on a college campus sidewalk: a single table, a single man named Tony Mattingly, a single program called Career Track.

The outcome of this quick one-on-one, however, was far from simple. The outcome changed a man’s life. In return, he’s working to play that change forward.

Meet 31-year-old Chris Turley, the new director of Workforce Services at Bluegrass Area Development District.

“I look at this as a blessing. When I started on this journey, I didn’t know where it would take me. I’ve learned so much and I’ve been able to help a lot of people,” he says. “I’ve been able to give back to the communities where I grew up.” — Chris Turley

A native of Cynthiana, Turley participated in football, track and basketball while in school, with basketball being his sport of passion and best skill.

“My journey was going to be working with sports. My whole life, I had been an athlete,” Turley says. “I dreamed of one day becoming an athletic director or a coach in some capacity.”

To accomplish that dream, Turley applied to and was accepted at Eastern Kentucky University. He eventually earned his bachelor’s in sports management in 2007, and then went on to earn his master’s in sports administration in 2010.

But it was what happened in his junior year of college that actually determined his current path.

That was when Turley met Mattingly at that single table on the college campus sidewalk.

“I stopped and talked to him and he was telling me what the program had to offer,” Turley remembers. “What he was telling me sounded too good to be true, to be quite honest with you.”

The BGADD Career Track Program assists young people with tuition payments after the applicant completes the intake process and scores at or above a pre-determined level in their career of choice on a test that covers math and reading. Applicants must be on track to graduate within two years and on a career path in one of the four emerging sectors in the region; Advanced Manufacturing, Healthcare, IT and Transportation, Distribution and Logistics (updated since Turley accessed the program).

Once admitted, participants receive financial assistance to finish school, help with leadership development and soft skills training for professional attributes like resume writing and interviewing skills.

Turley says his group of six or seven students met up to once every two weeks outside of the college classroom experience and attended extra workshops to help sharpen their professional acumen.

The program, Turley says, is designed to help low-income individuals. For college students, Turley admits it is perfect, as “all college students have a low income.”

While the Career Track Program helped him to achieve the dream of a college education, Turley and the BGADD weren’t quite ready to quit the court.

Receiving the pass

After he graduated, Turley needed a job. Mattingly said there just happened to be a workforce specialist position open at BGADD.

 (Photo provided)

Cynthiana native Chris Turley, who played basketball at Harrison County, always thought he’d have a career in sports. Even so, that sports background ‘has really helped me’ in his work with BGADD. (Photo provided)

“You can’t always stay on the path that you start on,” Turley explains. “My path took me here and, actually, the position I’m in now, that sports background has really helped me.”

Turley applied for the position with some of the very same skills the BGADD helped him to build with, and was awarded the position. As workforce specialist, Turley helped adults aged 18 and up with their own workforce skills. He worked with first-time workers, displaced or dislocated workers, and those who had been terminated from their positions. His job was to look at their existing skills and help with upgrades through additional trainings. The trainings were specifically tailored to help individuals become more marketable to potential employers.

After two and a half years of helping others in that position, Turley had an opportunity to pass on what had been given to him years before. He became a Career Track coordinator and found himself seated at a single table on a college campus sidewalk.

“It made me feel good,” Turley says of the position. “I look at it this way, it is about helping people. That’s what I love to do.”

Just as his own experience in the program helped him to succeed, he knew he could help others do the same. Turley kept passing the ball, helping his team members win with multiple assists. He moved from a Career Track coordinator into a Youth Services manager position where he worked with 16- to 18-year-olds who were at-risk for or had already dropped out of high school.

It was during this time in his career that Turley received the positive affirmation of the energy he had poured into his position.

A game well played

While EKU’s campus is normally bustling with some sort of event, the spring of 2012 was a type of bustling that Turley won’t soon forget.

Each year, the BGADD sponsors a Youth Leadership Summit where the young people in the youth programs meet and get to compete in different events. The events are designed to showcase their newly acquired workplace and life skills, like resume writing, public speaking and mock interviewing.

Turley explains that the young people earn play money with each event they participate in, with additional money going to the winners in each category. After the competitions, there is a guest speaker, an award ceremony, a formal dinner, then a silent auction where the youth can apply their “winnings” toward the purchase of auction items.

A lot of these young people don’t have a whole lot of things in their lives except obstacles.” — Chris Turley

“A lot of these young people are low income, they have had some trials and tribulations. A lot of these young people don’t have a whole lot of things in their lives except obstacles,” Turley explains.

In 2012, the Youth Leadership Summit was held in the Perkins Building on the EKU campus. Colman Eldridge, executive assistant to the governor, was keynote speaker. The dinner went off without a hitch, the awards program left many participants beaming with pride, and the young folks had an opportunity to feel success.

It was 8 p.m. and dark when the festivities died down, and Turley started helping with the clean-up process. One young man lingered behind, holding an award plaque to his chest. After some time, the young man approached Turley. It was a brief conversation Turley will never forget.

“He said to me, ‘Mr. Turley, I want to thank you for all that you’ve done for me. I’ve never had anything like this in my life,’” Turley recalls.

The young man turned and walked away, out the doors and onto his waiting bus.

“To be honest, I almost teared up,” Turley admits. “It made me feel like my work was complete. Everything I had been working for, helping people, it validated what I was doing, that my work was right, this was where I was meant to be.”

Turley remained in that position for another three years, helping countless others to believe in themselves and to believe in a future they had dared not hope for before.

Then, just this past spring, Turley found the ball was in his hands again.

Taking the shot

When Turley played basketball, he filled the position of point guard. He was the one responsible for having control of the ball and making sure the ball got to the right place at the right time in order for the team to make a shot.

At this point in his career with BGADD, Turley could play point guard again, this time, as interim director of Workforce Services.
Turley checked into the game.

 (Photo provided)

Although Chris Turley doesn’t have as much face-to-face with young people in his new position as director of Workforce Services at BGADD, he said he knows he can still make a difference. ‘I knew I would be continuing to help people.’ (Photo provided)

“When our Executive Director David Duttlinger asked me to consider the interim position, I really did think about it,” he says. “I knew I would be continuing to help people, to help the staff here to grow, and to help with businesses and industry in our region.”

Turley accepted the position on March 16, then put his resume on file for the director position. Out of many candidates, Turley was awarded the position and officially became director of Workforce Services on July 22.

He had control of the ball and had the skills to move it where it needed to be.

In his role as director, Turley has five direct staff and also helps lead the staff at six career centers around the region. While there is not as much face-to-face with young people and workers as he previously had, Turley knows he can still make a difference. He can look at implementing quality programs and developing strategic plans for each region to make sure the BGADD is serving both employers and individuals.

Just as in his beloved sport of basketball, he knows this isn’t a simple game of one-on-one. This effort takes an entire team. And this team is in the game to win.

“I look at this as a blessing. When I started on this journey, I didn’t know where it would take me. I’ve learned so much and I’ve been able to help a lot of people,” he says. “I’ve been able to give back to the communities where I grew up. I have seen Central Kentucky grow and evolve and it is just a blessing to know that I have played a role in that and to see the economy move forward in this region.”

Kristy Robinson Horine is a freelance writer who lives in Paris. She wrote this story for the Bluegrass Area Development District.

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