Hester Ellerbe of Cheraw lives by her grandmother's mantra that every day you got to keep on pushing. Ellerbe pushed herself to go back and complete her high school education by passing the GED test. She pushed herself to pursue an associate degree, then a bachelor's degree and finally a master's.
One of these days, a doctorate degree will hang on the wall in her office at the South Carolina Commission for the Blind, where she is a vocational rehabilitation counselor and office manager. Of that, she is sure.
"It's not over yet. I got more to do," Ellerbe said.
Ellerbe began her push to educate herself and become the first in her family to go to college by not stopping with the GED and enrolling in Northeastern Technical College (Chesterfield-Marlboro Technical College at the time) to earn an Associate in Arts degree. For many years, she worked as a machine operator at Cheraw Yarn Mill, but she knew she was meant to do more with her life and career.
"When I went back to school, I had a family to take care of, and it took time," Ellerbe said. "But when I went to NETC, it opened doors for me that weren't open before. NETC was my springboard that propelled me to keep on going, to say, 'This is not enough.'"
Because NETC's Associate in Arts degree program is designed to prepare students to transfer to a four-year institution, Ellerbe easily made the transition from NETC to Coker College to complete her Bachelor of Arts in sociology.
She took a job with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control and began working with young teen mothers through a grant program called Resource Mothers.
"I'm a high energy person, so I love working with young people," Ellerbe said.
She assisted with prenatal clinics and counseled young mothers about delaying a second pregnancy in order to get their education.
She was then hired by Pee Dee Community Health Services (which is now CareSouth) for a similar grant program, but she worked with mothers of all ages in prenatal care.
When the grant expired, Ellerbe began working at Tri-County Mental Health, but she soon found herself pushing to go back to school. She enrolled in a graduate program at S.C. State University in Orangeburg and earned a master's degree in rehabilitation. She also completed certification in orientation mobility, which his allows her to teach the blind how to navigate with a cane.
Ellerbe worked briefly at the Department of Juvenile Justice's Camp Bennettsville before a former professor at S.C. State directed her toward a job in Florence with the S.C. Commission for the Blind. Ellerbe had interned with the commission while in graduate school but never expected to end up working there.
"Timing is everything," Ellerbe said sitting in her spacious office decorated with photos of her seven children and dozen grandchildren. "I am grateful that I had the job at the yarn mill. It helped me and my husband, James, to raise our family, but I knew I was meant for more."
As a vocational rehabilitation counselor, Ellerbe helps the visually impaired gain more independence and become contributing members of society by helping them find employment or retain a job. Ellerbe will celebrate 13 years of service with the S.C. Commission for the Blind in August.
"My grandmother, Mrs. Marie Merritt from the Wilson Hill, was the driving force in my life," Ellerbe said. "She told me, 'Don't let anything hold you back – not your race, not your gender. You just keep on pushing.'"
Ellerbe is also grateful for having NETC as an educational resource in her community to pursue a college degree.
"Life is a journey, and NETC was my starting point on my pathway to a rewarding career in social work," Ellerbe said. "NETC can be a starting point for many who are ready to start pushing for an education and open a new door in their life."
Tags: Personal Growth