Second-chance price tag
by Rhonda Morin
Student Stephen Miller left his job as a garbage collector after being injured. He enrolled at Clark and is set to graduate with a loan debt of $12,000.
An injury on the job, bankruptcy and home foreclosure made for a pretty grim future for Stephen Miller. The Vancouver resident’s work as a garbage collector for eight years resulted in a repetitive stress injury in his back, leaving him unemployable. A visit to the local WorkFirst office in 2013, led him to Clark College to pursue a passion he’s had for years—building websites and videography.
Nearly two years later, Miller is on track to graduate this summer with an associate degree in web development and a student loan debt of just under $12,000. Over the winter Miller, 47, took part in an internship with Kenneth Otten of Otten Consulting OGC Group, a colleague he intends to work with upon graduation. Miller expects to be producing instructional videos and managing a website for a start-up company Otten is establishing that offers federal compliance assistance for building and office accessibility.
If the job pans out, Miller will have an income source to pay his bills, including an approximate $200 monthly student loan bill that will be due after a six-month grace period following graduation.
Miller has other debts—more than $5,000 in credit card bills that have gone unpaid while he’s been unemployed and a car payment on a 2008 Kia Rio. Monthly bills include living expenses and supporting his wife’s three children from a prior relationship.
In and out of jail since the age of 12, a felony conviction and bankruptcy in early 2013, have left Miller and his wife Krystal West unable to secure an apartment. They have lived separately since losing their home—she and her daughter in a clean and sober home for mothers and children that she manages, while Miller assists with managing a similar home for men. The other children live with other family or on their own.
Miller, who has been in recovery for 11 years, is committed to staying clean, steering clear of the court system and paying the bills. The reality of his student loans, compounded with other debt and financial responsibilities, has him worried. Despite the obstacles, Miller is optimistic. The courses at Clark have renewed his enthusiasm for setting work goals since discovering topics that fascinate him, such as online media production.