- Associated Press - Monday, April 17, 2017

AMESBURY, Mass. (AP) - At 49 years old, Bruce Augustonovich knows full well second chances don’t come around every day - he barely had a first.

The Haverhill native grew up with “three brothers, a sister, a brother in Florida, two stepbrothers and a stepsister.”

Augustonovich said he had a “not-so-friendly stepfather” and often found himself in trouble during his youth. He made it only as far as the eighth grade.

“I didn’t like school, I didn’t like authority,” Augustonovich said. “I just wasn’t going to go.”

Instead of enrolling in high school, Augustonovich became a working man at the age of 15. He married at 18 and raised five children.

Moving right along with his life, everything for Augustonovich came to a screeching halt when he had “several” heart attacks, followed by a stroke in 2005.

“I received a pacemaker at 37 years old,” Augustonovich said. “Then I became afraid of the world. I thought everything was going to kill me.”

Imprisoned by his own fears, Augustonovich said he didn’t leave the house for almost four years until seeing the effect he was having on his children.

“They weren’t going to school,” Augustonovich said. “They weren’t working and were sitting around playing video games. So I walked from my house in Merrimac to Northern Essex Community College and I enrolled in school” in 2007.

Leading by example, Augustonovich soon found he was keeping company on NECC’s Haverhill campus with his daughter Kayla and son Joseph.

“The kids followed me and they were the ones who kept me going,” Augustonovich said. “I wanted to take the knowledge of my upbringing and give it back.”

Suddenly finding a passion for learning, Augustonovich would eventually graduate with an associate’s degree in human services alongside Kayla in 2014, then obtained another associate’s degree - this time in general studies - to graduate alongside Joseph in 2015.

Pursing his bachelor’s in social work, Augustonovich continued his education at Salem State University and is scheduled to graduate this spring.

“A lot of people don’t understand what social work is,” Augustonovich said. “The most common thing I am asked, when people learn I am studying social work is, ‘Why do you want to take people’s kids away?’ (Social work) is putting your community together. It is setting up the building blocks for everyone to live with dignity.”

Interning as a caseworker at the Amesbury Council on Aging since October, Augustonovich has been advocating for clients who need housing, and mental health and fuel assistance, among other services.

“Complaining is a part of my job,” he said. “I’ve learned to listen and how to be patient. Working with the elderly, you really have to be patient. It is different from raising kids.”

Augustonovich has shown not only patience with clients, but his empathy and dry sense of humor have served him well, according to Council on Aging Executive Director Doreen Brothers.

“Being calm transfers to the client,” Brothers said. “Being a good listener is key and I feel like he is a good listener. I can count on him. He puts people at ease and it is a pleasure to be working with him.”

Brothers won’t have Augustonovich’s talents for much longer, however. The grandfather of four will soon be moving into Salem State University’s advanced standing master’s degree program, which combines two years of study into one.

Augustonovich will also be interning at Lahey Health Behavioral Services in Lawrence with a mental health focus once his master’s program gets underway. His goal is to return to Northern Essex as a professor.

“Your whole life leads you up to what you are going to do, eventually,” he said. “The program coordinator over there has known for a couple of years that I am after her job.”

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2pa01Xl

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Information from: The Daily News of Newburyport (Mass.), https://www.newburyportnews.com

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