Howard GarlonInstead of being a casualty of the widespread layoffs in eastern Kentucky, Garlon Howard has used this opportunity to retrain and retool into an exciting career in healthcare.

Howard, 34, of Inez, Ky., is among the first graduates of Big Sandy Community and Technical Colleges Accelerating Opportunity Kentucky (AOKY) program. In partnership with Kentucky Adult Education and the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, AOKY is an educational and workforce initiative that combines basic education (math, reading and writing) with technical training in order to prepare students for high-demand jobs or to continue on with their educational studies.

I dont know where I would be without Accelerating Opportunity, said Howard, who was laid off in May 2012 after spending five years as a rock truck driver and mine emergency technician with a local coal company.

Howard has completed the Allied Health track of the AOKY program at BSCTC. The college offers five tracks Allied Health, Computer Information Technology, Electricity, Industrial Maintenance and Welding.

One of the unique features of AOKY is the personalized approach to helping students achieve their goals. They receive adult education and technical training simultaneously, allowing the student to work at an accelerated rate towards a credential. The program also features career counseling through a success coach, who helps students with resume development and job searches.

Howard has completed his certification as a Certified Nursing Assistant and is currently applying for jobs. He is completing summer classes to finish his prerequisites for the Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) program at BSCTC. His eventual goal is to become a nurse practitioner and work with the regions aging population.

Ive witnessed first-hand the obstacles that our elderly go through, Howard said. He currently helps take care of his grandmother, Josephine Kirk. I want to be there for the sick and elderly.

The faculty at BSCTC have been 100 percent committed to seeing me succeed, said Howard.

Its not been easy, but they have been there to answer any questions and offer words of encouragement, he said. It is truly a team atmosphere.

To learn more about the AOKY program at BSCTC, contact James Chafin at (606) 788-2845 or email