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September 21, 2021

‘She is my inspiration’: Mother-daughter duo graduate RCCC occupational therapy program

SALISBURY – To say that Lisa Rose and her daughter, Ayanna Leach, have a strong work ethic could be the understatement of the year.

When they’re not attending classes as full-time students in the occupational therapy assistant program at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, the two are holding down jobs, completing clinical requirements, doing homework and caring for their families.

Both women would love to fit in a little more sleep but say their dream jobs will be worth the sacrifice. Rose is heading toward the finish line as a member of the new occupational therapy assistant program’s first class and will graduate in May with her associate in applied science degree. Leach is in her first year and will graduate in May 2020.

“Someone recently asked me how I was going to celebrate graduation, and I said I was going to sleep for about 10 hours straight,” said Rose, who sets her alarm for about 2:30 a.m. and reports to work at Agility Fuel Solutions at 4 a.m. She works, then attends daytime classes and goes back to work before settling in for housework, homework and other responsibilities in the evening.

“My day ends whenever it ends, but it always starts again at 2:30,” she said.

Leach has a similar lifestyle, working three jobs, going to school and taking care of her two children, ages 6 and 3.

“I carry my books everywhere so I can study whenever I find a free minute,” she said. “Being busy has become a part of who I am. It makes me more structured and, the more I have to do, the more wisely I use my time.”

Leach said Rose has always been her inspiration, so it’s no surprise that she decided to follow in her mother’s footsteps after seeing the passion she developed for the occupational therapy field and the program at Rowan-Cabarrus.

Occupational therapy assistants help people of all ages overcome physical or psychosocial barriers. Clients learn to function more independently with the help of occupational therapy assistants, who adapt environments, train clients to gain or regain skills, and provide adaptive equipment or strategies.

The Rowan-Cabarrus program has received a seven-year initial accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education, which is the highest possible accreditation for a new program.

The curriculum prepares graduates to work under the supervision of a registered occupational therapist in screening, assessing, planning and implementing treatment and documenting progress for clients of all ages. The job outlook for occupational therapy assistants is strong, and the average salary in Rowan and Cabarrus counties is $52,000 and $53,800, a year respectively.

“We are pleased to be one of only seven community colleges in North Carolina to offer the occupational therapy assistant program,” said college President Carol S. Spalding. “We are so excited that our students will be working in our community throughout their clinical assignments and after graduation.”

Rose said she had always been fascinated with the medical field and, after spending 20 years in manufacturing and experiencing half a dozen layoffs, the time was finally right.

“I decided I was getting to the age where I couldn’t keep getting laid off, and when I heard about this program at Rowan-Cabarrus I knew this was the path for me,” she said.

The journey hasn’t been easy, so to bolster herself on days when she’s feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, Rose consults the five colorful Post-It notes she stuck on her mirror when she started to school. The notes are labeled “Success,” “Determination,” “Stay Focused,” “Positive Vibes,” and “Motivation.”

“I look at those notes every day, and they have helped me keep going when I thought I couldn’t,” she said. “I’ll probably keep them forever.”

Almost 50 years old and heading toward graduation, Rose advises anyone who is considering going back to school for a second career to follow their heart.

“It’s never too late. Don’t let age hinder you,” she said. “I hear people question it, but if it’s something you want to do, go for it. It is possible”

Since occupational therapy assistant classes are small — about 20 in the program each year — having a mother and daughter enrolled simultaneously has been inspirational for all the students, who have become like family.

“Both of these women are extraordinary students and people, and they are a bright spot in our program,” said Amy Mahle, chairwoman of the Rowan-Cabarrus occupational therapy assistant program. “I am so happy to see both of them realizing their dream and look forward to following them in their careers.”

For more information about the program, visit https://www.rccc.edu/healtheducation/about-occupational-therapy-assistant-program/.

For more information about Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, visit www.rccc.edu or call 704-216-RCCC (7222). The college is accepting applications and enrolling students for fall classes that begin Aug. 19.

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