Those who live long enough learn that life is full of twists and turns and stops and starts. Few experience a predictable life journey that plays out completely as planned or expected. The ability to adapt has always been important, but in the current economy changes can come quickly and dramatically. Carolyn Williams Osborne exhibited a decisive response when she faced a major life change as she entered midlife.
The middle child of five daughters, Carolyn was raised in the Stratford community of Alleghany County. Her dad was a mason and his rock and brick work can be found across the county. She attended Sparta Elementary and graduated from Alleghany High School. For 10-12 summers she worked at the Bluff Coffee Shop on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Carolyn counts this as one of her favorite jobs as it allowed her to meet people from all over the world. She also stitched together t-shirts for years in Sparta, first at Hanes and then for Bassett Walker. Her life was on a comfortable and predictable path.
That all changed when textile jobs migrated south as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). North Carolina lost thousands of textile jobs. Alleghany County was impacted with hundreds of lost jobs. Carolyn was one of those who found themselves suddenly unemployed.
At age 44, Carolyn found herself at a crossroads. The Transitional Adjustment Assistance Program was a part of the NAFTA agreement and offered educational assistance for displaced workers. Taking advantage of the educational opportunity presented to her, she enrolled at Wilkes Community College’s (WCC) Alleghany Center. Since 25 years had passed since her high school days, Carolyn spent her first semester in remedial classes. Not only did she have to catch up on academics, she had to relearn study skills. Once she reestablished those skills, she was ready to get down to business.
After obtaining her associate degree at WCC, she enrolled in the elementary education program at Appalachian State University. As a commuter student, she memorized every curve in every road between Sparta and Boone as she made the trip each day. She completed her degree requirements by doing her student teaching at Piney Creek Elementary School. She then spent four years with Wilkes County Schools, first at North Wilkesboro Elementary and then at Mulberry Elementary.
But the draw to home is a strong, magnetic force. When a job opened in 2009 at the Alleghany County Public Library Carolyn applied and is now the library program assistant. Her favorite activity is story time with children. Specifically she enjoys broadening those children’s horizons, and instilling in them a love of books and learning. She especially enjoys taking that program out into the community at day care facilities.
Carolyn says that most people would be surprised at the number and diversity of programs offered by the library. Patrons can come in to learn basic computer skills that can prepare them for more advanced classes at WCC. The “Lunch and Learn” program offers a variety of 1-2 hour long informational classes for adults. In addition to print books, the library offers ebooks and DVDs.
Carolyn credits WCC as helping her navigate through that transitional period from unemployed textile worker to adult student. There were basic skills that she had to learn and enhance. Now at the library, she has the opportunity to give back to the community that helped her through a difficult time in life. It is a value that is Absolutely Alleghany.