Southern Oregon University accounting student Mary Jane Feetham is on track to graduate next June and then take an exam to become a certified public accountant — the final step in a personal turnaround from near-homelessness and reliance on public assistance.
Feetham recognized that something had to change five years ago when she ended a relationship due to domestic violence and sought shelter at the Dunn House, a refuge operated by the Community Works nonprofit organization in Medford.
The first step was the hardest — she had to live without her three young children for two months while researching options and finding a safe place to live.
The second step was to find and accept help. An Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) caseworker helped her line up resources to pay a deposit, rent a place to live and qualify for food stamps. The Rogue Educational Achievement (REACH) project — another DHS program — helped her identify career goals, enroll at Rogue Community College, secure a travel voucher so she could afford the commute from Butte Falls and find daycare for her children, who ranged in age from 2 months to 8 years.
“There are resources out there, but so many people don’t even know they have an opportunity,” Feetham said. “Generational poverty is pounded into people. These nonprofits (can) become their support.”
Feetham finished her associate degree at RCC and transferred to SOU, but continued to face obstacles — financial and otherwise — while commuting from Butte Falls for classes that began at 8:30 a.m. She collected cans for money, found free items on Craigslist and even learned on YouTube how to repair her car when it wouldn’t start.
But her turnaround was on track, and she was grateful for her education and the guidance she had received. She became involved in her community as a way of giving back, and that led to her participation in the 2017 Jackson County Community Needs Assessment. She wrote a report that identified unmet needs and gaps in community services, and the report is still being used by nonprofit organizations and city governments to determine where efforts should be focused.
“She is inspirational and proof that where there is a will, there’s a way,” said Joan McBee, an SOU business professor and department chair.
Feetham is now a board member for the Butte Falls Community School Partnership and president of the Butte Falls Active Club. She received aid from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, and used some of that money to complete certifications through Oregon State University for grant-writing and nonprofit management. She landed a full-time grant-writing position with ACCESS, which serves low-income, disabled and senior populations in southern Oregon.
“I could write at home and earn a living while going to school,” Feetham said. “Eventually, I had to devote more time to school.”
Feetham — who has received a Ford Family Scholarship and 10 other grants or scholarships during her time at SOU — is now just a couple terms away from graduating and is nearing her goal of working in the region and remaining involved in her local communities. She is serving as an intern with an accounting firm in the area and proudly points out that she is “breaking the mold of welfare recipients.”