By Josh Jarman
Do you look forward to going to work in the morning? For most of us, the answer is sadly no, because we consider the daily grind of punching-the-clock and working for “the man” a necessary evil. But every once in a while we perk up and pay attention when we hear someone boldly proclaim that they love their job. We lean in and listen, almost as if to try to learn what well-kept secret they have discovered, in hopes that we can discover it, too.
After persevering through unimaginable trials, Holly Spencer BSN, RN, found her dream job as a registered nurse at The Foley Center at Chestnut Ridge in Blowing Rock, NC, a member of Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS).
Holly was born in a small mountain town known as Wellsboro, PA. As a child she hated growing up in that community because she was picked on for being overweight. After her parents divorced, she ended up dropping out of high school and living on the streets at 16 years old. During that time she often slept on friends’ couches or in the town’s 24/7 laundry mat.
“You don’t think about pride during times like that,” she said. “All you think about is how am I going to survive. I always knew that if I could get just one leg up, I could do better for myself.”
Determined to make it on her own, she found a full-time job at a long-term care facility that offered to pay for her Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) classes. Meanwhile, she also worked on the side to complete her General Equivalency Diploma (GED), which she finished in the same year that she would have graduated from high school.
“Eventually, I was able to afford a one-bedroom shared bathroom space above a dive bar,” she said. “I often had to share my bathroom with the drunks downstairs, but I used that as motivation to press on.”
Holly had plenty of time to plan for the future during her commutes back and forth to work. “I can still remember the time when one of the wheels fell off of my $100 red Pontiac Sunbird,” she said with a grin. “After that happened I caught rides when I could, but sometimes had to walk the 10 mile trek along the railroad track just to get to work on time.”
After having two sons in her early twenties, Holly realized that the next logical step to grow in her career would be to pursue her Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) certification. As a young mother she worked full-time at a facility for mentally handicapped adults while also going to school five-days-a-week.
“It was tough but we made it work,” she said. “I even had started going back to school for my bachelor’s degree in nursing when my husband and I divorced. At that point, I had to once again stop my education in order to be a full-time parent and provider for my kids.”
To make more money she accepted a nursing position at the Tioga County, PA, prison. “I worked as an LPN for five years in that prison,” she said. “I realized that people will become what their environment makes them and unless they really want to change they are not going to do it. I also realized just how easily I could have fallen into that same trap. So I did everything I could to encourage my kids at home, and also the inmates at the prison, to never settle and to always persevere in life. During that time I also reconciled with my parents, which was a major milestone and blessing in my life.”
Holly decided to move to North Carolina in 2010 after reconnecting and falling in love with an old high school friend who lives in the High Country. “We ended up getting married,” she gushed. “And that launched a whole new chapter in my life.”
Before long she started going back to school to complete her bachelor’s degree in nursing while also working full-time as an LPN at Blowing Rock Hospital. “I’ll never forget how gracious and supportive the folks at ARHS were to me,” she said. “They were always willing to work around my school schedule.”
During that time ARHS decided to replace the aging Blowing Rock Hospital with a brand new 112-bed post-acute care center known as The Foley Center at Chestnut Ridge. “If you think about it, it’s almost like the building and I both got a fresh start at the same time.”
After years of hard work, Holly earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from East Tennessee State University (ETSU) and officially became a registered nurse in December 2017.
“For the first time in my life, I finally got to wear my very own cap-and-gown,” she said with tears in her eyes. “I graduated cum laude and made the dean’s list every semester. I was proud of that.”
Holly has also excelled at The Foley Center where she was recently promoted to be a team leader and clinical supervisor for the entire facility. “I absolutely love working at The Foley Center,” she said. “There is just such a positive and supportive atmosphere here that you simply do not find anywhere else.”
More good news came on the day that she agreed to complete an interview for this story. Only hours after the interview, Holly received her long-awaited acceptance letter into the Doctor of Nursing Practice program at ETSU.
“I do think that people need to hear that they can make it if they try,” she said. “If you are willing to sacrifice and persevere, you can succeed. You just have to go for it!”
To learn more about career opportunities at Appalachian Regional Healthcare System visit apphrs.org/careers