Mel Miller felt held captive by the fact he didn’t have his high school diploma.

As of May 22, he’s a free and happy man.

Miller was one of 13 students to receive their General Education Development degree through the Piedmont Regional Adult and Career Education Programs May 22.

Miller said that it was missions trips with McLean Bible Church that helped push him to earn his degree.

He left school when he was 14, and he promised his parents he would get his GED - but he never did. He had a 20 year career as a salesman, but “I carefully hid that I didn’t have my diploma. I always felt like I was held captive by the fact I didn’t have my diploma.”

It was on a mission trip to Haiti that he first encountered special needs children - he felt ashamed and kept away from him but on a later trip he encountered more and found he had a heart for helping them. It was on a recent trip to Kenya last fall that he felt a calling in his heart to go get his degree.

“These kids fought and scrapped for every bit of education they could get,” Miller said. “I’m sitting there and I threw away my education. That’s where I made the decision that I have to come home and get my education.”

He came home and started making calls - Ginger Hilleary, Regional Program Manager for PRACEP took his call and welcomed him in. He began taking courses through PRACEP and on May 22 was able to hold his head up high.

“I feel the Lord placed the calling to work with special needs kids in my heart,” Miller said. “Now it’s a love and passion of mine and it can only come from a place outside of myself.”

Amanda Fetzer, an AmeriCorps Member, also received her GED that day and praised the organization for supporting her.

“I have gotten to explore different parts of Virginia with them,” Fetzer said. “This past year with AmeriCorps has opened a lot of doors for me. I’m just so grateful and blessed that I pushed myself to get my GED to do this.”

Last year’s graduation ceremony featured 30 graduates - but that encompassed a three-year period. This year, 14 graduates walked in one calendar year.

Shemicka Grigsby and Patricia Herndon were two of five students through Plugged-In Virginia who presented their work for their certification. The program prepares paraeducators for the classroom.

“The state recognized there was a problem, that employers were finding it difficult to get people into certain positions in their jobs, and the people applying for the positions didn’t have the skills,” PIVA Instructional Coordinator Joyce D’Urso said. “Now other states are looking at ours as a model.”

The program, started in 2009 in Southwest Virginia, is now offered through all 22 adult education programs in the state.

Andrea Kilby, first-year instructor for PRACEP and an assistant principal at Floyd T. Binns Middle School praised the GED students for their hard work.

“Tonight we are here to celebrate the acquisition of knowledge, hard work, great aim and definitely perseverance,” Kilby said. “When you’re in these GED classes, you truly become a family. We take a genuine interest in each other’s lives. We take pride in the accomplishments of each other.”

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