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Rouses Seek Education After Plant Closes

Tommy and Crystal RouseThough Tommy and Crystal Rouse had heard the rumblings about the imminent closing of Farmville’s Collins & Aikman plant for several years, they were nevertheless surprised and devastated when the speculation finally came true in April 2006.

For 27 years, Tommy had worked in C&A’s maintenance department, doing his part to help the company make materials used in the production of automobiles—items such as seat covers, headliners and door panels.

Crystal had worked in C&A’s human resources department for 13 years. She and Tommy actually met at the plant in 1995 and married a year later. The couple worked the day shift and ate lunch together.

Facing the loss of their jobs at C&A, the Rouses decided to make the best of a difficult situation. Perhaps it was a sign of things to come that C&A once made materials for graduation caps and gowns since the couple chose to pursue higher education at Pitt Community College.

After meeting with representatives from PCC’s Rapid Response Team and weighing their educational and financial options, Tommy enrolled in the college’s AC, Heating and Refrigeration Technology program while Crystal signed up for Medical Office Administration.

Pursuing higher education instead of looking for new work was a tough decision for the Rouses. But for both, it was an opportunity to earn a college degree, a chance particularly appealing to Crystal who had always regretted dropping out of high school before earning a GED.

Tommy and Crystal both said age and experience taught them the value of education. “To halfway get ahead, you have to have an education,” says Tommy. “That’s something they can’t take away from you, period. Next job comes and goes, you still have it.”

Crystal noted that finding a decent-paying job without a college degree was difficult, to say the least. “You can get a job that pays $9 or $10 an hour, but that isn’t going to pay the bills,” she said.

In January of 2007, the Rouses started full-time at PCC through Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), which pays for their tuition and books. But without steady income, the couple has made sacrifices—both financially and with their time—in order to pursue education.

That hard work is expected to pay off in May, when Tommy and Crystal take part in Pitt’s Spring Commencement. “I blew my chance to walk across that stage in high school,” said Crystal. “I’m going to walk across that stage [when I graduate from PCC].”