Every morning, when Whitney Oliver walks into Gathering Hope House, she’s met with smiles.
“People are happy to be here,” Oliver says. “We’re a place where people know they can come and be welcomed and be part of a community.”
The Gathering Hope House is dedicated to empowering Lorain County adults who manage mental illnesses. The non-profit promotes member independence and belonging by offering free meals, a fitness center, an art studio, support services, and social outings. Its mission also includes educating the broader community about what it’s like to manage a mental illness and how the stigma often associated with it affects members’ lives. And Oliver, Gathering Hope House executive director, is deeply committed to the mission.
“At the end of the day, belonging is what every human wants and needs and that’s what we’re moving toward,” she says. “We provide a place where people accept you for who you are and want to take care of you. And I think that that’s huge.”
Giving back to the community that provided an education
Oliver, who grew up in Elyria and still lives there today, says her work at Gathering Hope House is, in part, a way to give back to the Lorain County community that has provided her with so many opportunities. The greatest has been her education. Oliver is a 2014 graduate of Lorain County Community College’s University Partnership program, which provides students access to 15 colleges and universities delivering more than 100 bachelor’s and master’s degrees. On average, graduates save $74,000 by attending the University Partnership and Oliver says without it, she might not be where she is today.
“When I was looking into getting my bachelor’s degree in psychology, I wanted to do so as close to home as possible so I could be with my children and work,” Oliver says. “It’s also extremely affordable compared to other colleges and universities.”
In 2012, Oliver enrolled in Cleveland State University’s Bachelor of Arts in Psychology program through LCCC’s University Partnership. She says the admissions process was simpler than she expected, even as an adult learner who was transferring credits from another four-year university.
“LCCC makes it easy as a non-traditional student,” she says. “It was pretty overwhelming to navigate all that stuff and they made it really easy.”
An ideal education atmosphere for adult learners
Once classes began, Oliver says the supportive, understanding atmosphere she experienced as an adult learner during admissions continued. Her instructors were focused on student success and how they could help.
“The professors on campus, whether they are LCCC or CSU, are invested in their students,” Oliver says. “And they know that college may not be the only thing students have on their plates. Some students are taking care of their children, some are working two or three jobs.”
Oliver says that kind of compassion and flexibility set her up for future academic and career success. After graduating Summa Cum Laude from Cleveland State University, Oliver earned her Master of Arts in Psychology through the University Partnership as well. She’s now a licensed professional clinical counselor with the supervisor designation, and a licensed independent chemical dependency counselor.
“Every situation in my career has made me realize what a great education I got at LCCC,” Oliver says.
And at Gathering Hope House, Oliver says she’s proud to work alongside many LCCC graduates. But she’s not surprised, knowing well how the college caters to adult learners and how ingrained LCCC graduates are in the community, with 90% living and working in the area.
“LCCC and the University Partnership open up doors for all sorts of people from different backgrounds to get higher education close to home,” she says.