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SPECIAL REPORT: Economy forces couple to change career paths

Published On: Dec 24 2013 03:47:21 PM EST   Updated On: Nov 11 2013 06:05:00 PM EST

The Hartmans are living proof that hitting rock bottom can bring about positive change


The economy has taken its toll on Southwest Virginia as it's closed doors to businesses and left people without a source of income.

In a WDBJ7 Special Report, we're introducing you to one couple who struggled and came up on top after learning of programs in our area that could get them back on their feet.

Todd Hartman did what most people do when they are laid off and that’s file for unemployment, but when he walked into the Virginia Employment Commission, he found more than just a temporary fix to his problems.

"You'd be surprised at what you can do if you have to," he said.

Hartman has always believed when the going gets tough, the tough get going and that's why this Virginia native said getting laid off not once, but twice, was the best thing that has ever happened to him.

"If you have no other choices and the family is on the line you can do anything you set your mind to."

A tough turn in the economy got the best of the Virginia steel mill Hartman was working in as they starting outsourcing work to Mexico. The change in the mill's workflow sent Hartman in a new direction.

"I went back to school as a nurse and here I am," he said.

Hartman did more than make the best out of a bad situation. He said he found his true calling.

"It's amazing to look back on how it all fell into place,” he said. “I still don't know how it fell into place but here we are."

Hartman filed for unemployment through the VEC and found out about the Trade Adjustment Assistance program. It's a federal program established under the Trade Act of 1974 that provides aid to workers who lose their jobs as a result of increased imports. The goal is to help such laid-off workers return to suitable employment as quickly as possible and Hartman is living proof it works.

"It was tough,” he said. “But something I knew I had to do for the kids to eat so we made it work. I studied about three hours a day every day after school."

Hartman's change of pace sparked a flame in someone else as Hartman’s wife, Alisha, thought she might like to go back to school.

"We just decided we’ll jump together and we went into the adventure together and that's where I'm at now,” she said.

Alisha turned to Goodwill Industries of the Valley and a program called the Workforce Investment Act. Before long, Alisha was transiting from stay at home mom to nurse.

"Had it not been for that neither one of us probably wouldn't have gone back to school,” she said. “We would have been scraping little jobs around here and there until we found the gold mine."

The Hartmans think they've struck it big as both are happily employed with Carilion. Todd is in pediatrics and Alisha is in geriatrics.

The two decided to share their story of hitting rock bottom in hopes that it will influence others to never give up when things get tough.

"We were always wondering are we going to get through it,” said Alisha. “It was that constant struggle changing money around to catch up to the other we're not rich by any means, but we're comfortable and I couldn't ask for anything more."

Todd said he couldn’t imagine a better outcome for his family.

"It was very tough,” he said. “Looking back on it we don't know how we did it, but we did it."

If you, or someone you know, is looking for a job, CLICK HERE for a full listing of openings.

Click on the WIA tab or Trade Adjustment Assistance program tab for more information on the specific programs the Hartmans used to get back on their feet.