John Heller is a returning second-year Centralia College student from Shelton. “Actually,” he admits, “I was born in Shelton and graduated from high school there, but we moved around a lot. I was an Army brat,” Heller grinned. For the next twenty years, Heller lived a life of hard work and high adventure. “I was a commercial crabber and salmon fisherman in Alaska,” he explained. “I served in the Merchant Marine, and when I came back to the Northwest I started working in construction, building trades, and hard physical labor.”
Times were good, according to Heller, and the money sufficient, if not of the “get-rich-quick” kind. And then one day, stepping down from the back of a construction rig, Heller slipped and seriously fractured his foot. His days on the high seas and in big construction were over. He had to find a new career.
Tests, counseling, and work training opportunities led him to Centralia College and a start on a degree in accounting. His dad was an accountant, and Heller had always had an interest in the field. After he enrolled and started classes–not without a few hesitant steps and stumbles–Heller finally decided he’d made a good choice. “Turned out, I was pretty good at it, too,” he smiled. As his skill and confidence grew, Heller began stretching his wings a little, looked at the opportunities he’d discovered, and recognized a growing desire to help others in the community.
At the college, he became president of the business “Rotaract” club, took an interest in the local Rotary effort, joined Phi Theta Kappa (the two-year college honor society), and was accepted into the Centralia College Honors Program. The onetime deckhand and carpenter is now closing in on his associate degree and has plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting, get a second degree, and become a CPA. He’s outspoken about his respect for his mentor and professor John Fasler, and the part Fasler’s unique flexible curriculum design has played in his success.
“It’s absolutely the best I could have asked for,” he avowed. “I can be qualified to enter the accounting field right away, and yet all of my credits can be transferred to a four-year college. It’s a big jump in reaching my personal goals.”
It is the college Honors Program, however, that has given Heller his biggest boost. For his independent study project, Heller is designing a plan for low-income families to become better prepared to handle their incomes and expenses in the most effective and rewarding way. “Middle class and rich people can afford to hire that kind of help,” he maintains, “but low-income people just don’t get a chance to learn what it takes to manage their own assets.”
Heller’s program, which he calls the “Family Literacy Council,” will do just that. John Heller envisions a time in the near future when disadvantaged families can attend classes, have one-on-one counseling from local financial planners, and the kind of asset guidance that is presently unavailable to them.
These days, Heller doesn’t have time for as much reading, or fishing, or playing with his dog as he wishes, but he’s busy with a brand-new fundraising drive to make the Family Literacy Council a reality. Nobody at Centralia College is surprised at this young man’s growing success!