There may be dark economic clouds gathering around the capitol, but today beneath the dome a celebration is underway for those who battle against the storm.
President of the Oklahoma Career and Technical Education Equity Council Leslie Brown said, “There are people in here who have gone above and beyond for others, or maybe there people in here that took a chance on somebody.”
The Oklahoma Career and Technical Education Equity Council is a body focused on economic empowerment of single-parent families. Brown says the key is to remove the barrier and then the student will do the work.
This celebration, known as Making it Work Day, holds up both those lifted and those that do the lifting. Jennifer Wilcox was one who was honored.
Wilcox said, “Well, now I have a job and I work full time, where I was just taking care of my son. And I have a degree; (I) have credentials behind my name where I didn’t have them before.”
Jeff Foster of the Four Tribes Consortium of Oklahoma said, “You know we stand up here, all of us, for one reason and that’s to make that individual take ownership of his or her life. It means that what we do every day someone sees.”
Both pride and gratitude mixed equally in this atmosphere.
Moore Norman Technology Center Computer Aided Design & Drafting graduate Christina Byler said with emotion, “It’s hard for me to put into words how thankful I am.”
For Byler, this is a day to reflect on how far she has come and who helped her get here.
Byler said, “It means the world to me; you mean the world to me,” referencing MNTC’s HIRE program, a support function for full time students attempting to gain employment skills and who also had to overcome personal challenges.
MNTC HIRE Coordinator Becky Wood said, “I’ll never forget the first day she (Byler) came into my office. She was very tentative; very unsure of herself. I could sense though that there was something about her, she wanted more but she just didn’t really believe she could have more.”
As the director of Moore Norman Technology Center’s HIRE program, Wood has made a career of sheparding wayward souls.
Wood said, “CareerTech of course provides the perfect medium in which to grow people, and to be able to present other possibilities to them. But when people see their own potential then all we have to do is just run alongside and give them the tools and open the doors.”
Doors shut and locked were all Byler was expecting when she arrived at Moore Norman.
Byler said, “I was hopeless. I was broke - broken.”
Youthful mistakes and an unfortunate relationship had taken her down a dark road, damaging her relationships with family and eventually landing her in county jail. But though discouraged, Byler wasn’t beaten and she learned from that experience.
“Maybe that was what was for me. You know, so that I just wouldn’t do it again. (It) Made me stronger; you know, more determined to do things differently,” she said.
MNTC CADD Instructor John Means said, “It was tough at first because she was incredibly focused on her past. She was using her mistakes as the sole predictor of her future chances of success. She felt like she wasn’t smart enough, like she wasn’t a good enough person, like she was a pretender.
“That’s how she saw herself. What I saw was someone who had the courage to embark on a new path, however hard it proved to be, and to make the absolute commitment to work as hard as she possibly could to achieve her goal. That was the hardest thing, really; helping her to reframe her internal self-portrait. I provided an environment that was safe, positive and stable. It was her work ethic and tenacity that made her successful.”
Wood said, “Even things that are really dark and painful, they have value. Domestic violence can teach you a lot. Your bad choices can teach you a lot and I think it’s how people’s character is formed. And I actually think that some of my best success stories have been people who’ve had the toughest journeys.”
And Christina’s journey showed just how determined she was.
“She rode a one-speed bicycle to get to school from Moore. I want to say it was about 11 miles round trip that she had to ride,” said Wood.
Byler said laughing, “It was a cruiser (bike). It was one my sister gave me; you know those with the basket and the big handlebars and they are super-cute. Not for a distance ride – no.”
But with that persistence and finding the right program, Byler is now thriving in industry. Where she works for CP&Y as a CADD technician developing plans for bridges.
“We make this the actual set that the builders and construction workers go off of,” Byler said showing drafts and design work she’s produced in the office.
Means said, “I don’t think it’s a matter of this having been Christina; I saw someone who was willing to work and had a lot of courage which are qualities I see frequently in my students – we are in Oklahoma, after all.
“In the end, it was she that achieved. I helped her in that I provided the industry specific know-how and an environment in which she felt comfortable enough to take the chances she needed to take to become the Christina she wanted to be.”
David Newhauser is Byler’s supervisor. He says their company is far less interested in who Byler once was, than they are in who she is today.
Newhauser said, “Things that we looked at when we heard about her was not just that she was one of the heads of her class as far as the performance goes CADD-wise, but that she was a leader and that she was really driven. So when she came in and talked to us she was able to present herself (well) and we could tell that she was hungry for work and would work hard.”
“I just want to do a really good job because I’m so thankful for the opportunity. I’m living the dream right now, you know? It feels like I’m Cinderella! Like I’m the Cinderella story - but not a princess,” Byler said laughing.
Royalty or not, Christina Byler is certainly making it work.