- Associated Press - Monday, March 14, 2016

BATESVILLE, Ark. (AP) - The backpack felt like it weighed 50 pounds or more and the chain must have popped off every 30 feet on that bicycle with the low tires, but 18-year-old Jacob Turner pedaled that 15 miles every morning from Newark to Batesville.

The Batesville Daily Guard (https://bit.ly/222z8Sr ) reports that a stolen truck was not going to steal his chance at an education.

Though it meant getting up more than two hours early to make it to his 8 a.m. class at the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville, Turner said he had worked so hard to put himself in the position to attend college that not having a vehicle wasn’t going to stop him from going.

“I’ve surprised myself for making it that far,” Turner said, crediting his family and UACCB. “It shows you don’t have to start off in a good position to get to where you want to be. The struggles make you who you are.”

A 2015 Cedar Ridge High School graduate who is nearing the end of his first year at UACCB, Turner comes from a lower-income, middle class family. “We’ve always struggled,” but his and his siblings’ needs were always met, and “we’ve had more love and support” than any kids could want, even if Charles and Melissa Morris couldn’t always do what others could for their children.

Turner’s mom is disabled and suffers from seizures while his dad also has health problems; however, this has only fueled Turner’s desire for wanting to study exercise science and psychology to become a personal trainer.

He hopes to eventually transfer to Arkansas State University to complete his bachelor’s degree, but the decision to attend UACCB was based on two things: “It was close to home and affordable.” Having friends there also meant Turner was less nervous about starting college.

He knew the financial obligations would be his to bear, but being responsible for his own bills and expenses is nothing new to Turner, who worked at a grocery store at age 16 and for a masonry company upon graduation, helping his parents every way he could.

But when he went to the campus after work one day last year to get help in filling out a student aid application and returned to the parking lot to find his old (and first) GMC pickup missing, it was a lesson learned the hard way not to leave his windows down and keys in the ignition.

He began calling friends, thinking, “if this is a joke, it isn’t funny. … But that’s where the staff at UACCB really showed their character,” Turner said.

Staff came to his side, one took him around the campus to make sure he didn’t forget where he had parked and to help him think of others he could call. (The truck was later wrecked and totaled by the person who reportedly stole it, leaving Turner to sell it for scrap for $200.)

Being without a vehicle, however, meant lost days at work at a job that eventually led to a company layoff. That meant no rent money (a place he shared with a roommate), which led to having to move back in with Mom and Dad.

Quitting school was not an option.

For a few days, Turner rode what might be considered a child’s-size bike to school from Newark. Most might have given up, especially after having to stop every so often to put the bike’s chain back on or show up to school sweaty and even a little dirty. But, Turner saw it as a means to an end.

Academic adviser Jennifer Emery remembers seeing that bike and wanting to know its owner. When she learned it was Turner, she took him around and introduced him to staff he may not have known, several of whom gave their phone numbers to Turner if he needed a ride.

“He shows extraordinary grit and determination,” she said. “The kid’s always had a lot of jobs.” Even when offered other jobs at the school, he’s extended his appreciation but confides it wouldn’t provide the overtime needed to help pay his bills.

“There are some people who don’t realize what they’ve been given and he hasn’t been given much. … He’s a very humble person and never without a smile,” she said, adding how Turner, in his humble, unassuming way, may think he’s ordinary, but “he is very extraordinary. … He’s not going to let himself get in the way in stopping him from reaching his goals.”

Turner’s father lent his teenage son his car to get back and forth to campus and home for a time, but when he received grant funds from school, he used the money to help pay for a truck, a decision he admits may not have been the wisest considering the high-interest payments. The layoff came after, making it even more difficult to cover the expense.

Making out a budget, showing his cost of living expenses, truck payment, insurance, etc., he went to UACCB’s finance office, where Emery and other staff have worked to help him secure a low-interest loan.

Now a 3.0-GPA student, Turner not only attends school full time and finds time to exercise five days a week, he’s a full-time employee at Peco Foods, working evenings, a job that he says would not have been possible without help from UACCB.

The 18-year-old’s persistence in wanting to earn his degree when others might have given up has been inspiring to faculty. Turner, however, sometimes can’t believe the faith so many have in him, but “they tell me they like to help people who help themselves.”

A student who once dreaded math in high school he now loves algebra in college.

“I enjoy math although I’m not necessarily the greatest at it,” he said with a laugh, noting his gratefulness to Dennis Broadwater and John Dempsey, who work with the Student Success Center to coordinate tutoring. He also receives tutoring in English and continues to be a scholarship recipient.

While he wouldn’t wish hardship on anyone, he knows it has helped to make him what he is today.

“Going through all that, it just makes me appreciate the things I do have and the value of a dollar.”

But he wants more.

With an exercise science degree he hopes to show others how to maintain a healthy lifestyle with activity and the right foods before resorting to medicine to help ease chronic pain. Deteriorating health is something he’s watched firsthand with his mother, who he said didn’t let anything keep her from being a full-time worker and “super mom” to her family before getting sick.

And while he doesn’t hold a grudge for those who have had a head start, he is thankful for the work ethic that not having the upper hand has provided. “I take opportunities more seriously and the little bit that has been given has been a privilege,” he said.

Free time, however, is rare.

Turner works every Saturday he can. Sunday nights are spent packing his breakfast, lunch and dinner for the following day to have at school and work. Mondays are perhaps his most stressful, but he enjoys the routine. “It keeps me busy and keeps me out of trouble.”

And while he doesn’t go seeking attention, he said it’s nice when others offer a pat on the back for hard work. “I didn’t always get that recognition, but they (UACCB) make sure (to do so).”

However, he doesn’t know if he could have done it without faith, relatives or the institution that’s become like a second family.

“I definitely owe a lot of my success to those who work so hard over there. … They seem to really care, and it never ceases to amaze me how much they go out of their way to ensure a student’s success (even meeting basic needs). I wouldn’t be on the path I am today if not for them.”

The same can also be said of girlfriend Brittany Vanwinkle, who he said, along with her parents, has helped him when he had no job and nights when he had no food. They saved him a place at their dinner table, Turner said.

A man of faith, Turner admits to times when he failed to rely on his relationship with the Lord, but admits how falling on hard times has led him back to that bond.

He gives Vanwinkle and her parents some of that credit.

“They really helped strengthen my relationship,” he said, noting how he had gotten to a point where he didn’t pray as much anymore but now strives to make the Lord a constant companion.

“In hard times, I realized I cannot do this on my own.”


Information from: Batesville Guard, https://www.guardonline.com/

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