It had been nearly five years since he’d been in a college classroom, and Trent Kilgore-Hill Sr. was nervous. But more than that, when he stepped onto Lorain County Community College’s campus, he was committed to overcoming every obstacle that stood in his way, because his education wasn’t just about him anymore — it was about his son.
“More important than anything else, I wanted to give my son someone to look up to,” he says of Little Trent, “LT,” 4. “Kids have to see it to believe it, and he’s always seen me work my hardest. I want him to be nothing short of great in anything he wants to do in life, and that’s why I work so hard.”
Finding his way
While Kilgore-Hill was a freshman at Elyria High School, his grandmother and his father passed away. A senior student took him under his wing.
“He took me to school, made sure I stayed on top of my grades and that I didn’t get lost in the streets,” he says.
After graduating in 2010, the prom king and track star had no clear path. He’d always thought he’d go into business, but after a few classes at The University of Akron and LCCC, he left.
“My mind just wasn’t focused on the books,” he says.
While working in retail in 2015, his high school mentor convinced him to volunteer at Elyria Teens Achieve Success (ETAS), a nonprofit that mentors at-risk students transitioning into high school. Recalling his own high school experiences, he thought he could contribute.
“I remember how tough that transition was for me, so I wanted to make it easier for other teens,” he says. “I wanted to be there for them like my mentor was for me.”
From the beginning, ETAS staff saw something special in his approach.
“We only asked that he work with his mentee for an hour once a week,” says ETAS Program Director Stacie Starr, who’s also classroom supervisor at Murray Ridge School. “He came every day for three hours for the entire year. We absolutely fell in love with his spirit.”
After a year, Starr asked him to become a staff member. He said yes.
“I realized I had a real passion for working with youth, and that’s when I decided to go back to school with a completely different mindset,” he says. “And I realized I wanted better for myself. I wanted to be able to look back when I’m old and say I tried my best.”
Kilgore-Hill re-enrolled at LCCC in fall 2017, initially to earn a short-term certificate in success coaching and mentoring. But after completing that certification in August 2018, he continued working toward an associate degree in human services.
Meanwhile, in addition to his job at ETAS, Kilgore-Hill began working at Windsor Elementary School in Elyria with children with autism.
“I decided to focus my career on counseling and mentoring because I know what it’s like to grow up without having many people believe you can be something,” says Kilgore-Hill, 27. “I want to be that person who gives people second chances.”
Kilgore-Hill says it’s not easy balancing his LCCC classes with full-time dad duties and two jobs, but he’s motivated to succeed.
“Sometimes I honestly don’t know how I do it,” he says. “It’s a lot of long nights and early mornings, and it takes a village of support.”
Kilgore-Hill’s girlfriend and LT’s mother, Sha’Rell Tarrant, is also attending LCCC, studying nursing, and they plan to graduate together in spring 2020. And LT is getting a head start on his education at LCCC, too.
“Something I appreciate most is the Children’s Learning Center,” says Kilgore-Hill of the place where he takes LT to participate in LCCC’s early childhood program while he and Tarrant work and attend classes. “They have helped tremendously by working with our schedule. Without them, it would have been even harder to achieve our dreams of graduating.”
Through the support of his mentors, including LCCC faculty and staff, Kilgore-Hill has overcome obstacles to become someone who helps youth do the same.
“I’m just trying to do my part,” he says. “My past didn’t write my future, but it helped make me into the man I am today.”
After graduation, he plans to continue his education through LCCC’s University Partnership program.
“I’ve thought of being a probation officer, or a counselor; I want to stay in a field working with youth,” he says.
Starr agrees that’s a perfect match.
“Trent is super encouraging and beyond positive,” says Starr, who graduated from Ashland University through LCCC’s University Partnership program in 2001. “He builds up the kids and gives them confidence; he’s such a leader.”
She says his smile is infectious, his laugh is contagious and his presence is necessary.
“He has already made an amazing impact on our community’s youth, and I can’t wait to see what he does next,” she says.