Lorain’s Shawn Stitak had come to a crossroads. The 1997 Admiral King High School graduate had earned her associate degree in communication in 2001 and was enjoying a successful corporate retail career behind the Estée Lauder and Lancôme counters at her favorite department stores. As the years passed, she’d gotten to know the customers who relied on her expertise in choosing products for their specific skin care needs.

Then COVID hit, and the 44-year-old suddenly had loads of time to ponder her future during stay-at-home protocols. Stitak’s thoughts turned to the dream she’d embraced for more than two decades — that of becoming a licensed esthetician who specializes in performing skin analysis, facials, microdermabrasion and dermaplaning. It was an aspiration she’d often discuss with her beloved grandmother who passed away four years ago.

“My grandma didn’t look like a grandma,” Stitak recalls with a smile. “We’d go shopping together and have long talks about the best way to care for our complexions. It was an activity we both really enjoyed. I knew that if I went back to school for further study in the field, it would be my way of having her presence continue to be with me while I help people look their best.”

But, Stitak ruminated, should she really take the plunge and quit a fulltime job to attend school? The answer was a resounding yes from Jeff Terschak, her boyfriend of 27 years. So, during the summer of 2020, Stitak took a deep breath and telephoned the Lorain County JVS to inquire about classes.

Little did she know then that Lorain County JVS’ Adult Career Center would be with her every step of the way to ultimately make her vision reality.

After completing the 600-hour esthetics course taught at the Career Center in 2021, Stitak passed her Ohio state license exam and is now a practicing esthetician and assistant manager at Spa Catawba on Marblehead.

“The hardest part of returning to school was walking into the building after not being inside a classroom for 20 years,” she says.

But Stitak adds she needn’t have worried. Her fears disappeared as Lorain County JVS staff and instructors helped her apply for financial aid and follow a curriculum that’s tailor-made for older students who have responsibilities they must tend to outside the classroom.

“The people I met there gave me the tools and resources to be in control of my own journey,” Stitak says. “They allowed me to explore different avenues and continue my education as they thoroughly prepared me to pass my state boards. Whatever your age, the staff knows you’re nervous. They go out of their way to say, ‘This is your moment.’”

“Best of all,” she adds, “they made my class feel united as we worked together to stay on track. Even now, if I have questions about what skills I should list on my resume, I’ll stop by or pick up the phone, and there’s someone at LCJVS who’ll help me.”

As esthetician Stitak reflects on the rewards her Lorain County JVS education has led to, one thing is certain. She intends to pay it forward.

“My goal is to one day teach at Lorain County JVS,” Stitak says. “I’m proud of the school and the education I received. When I left there to begin this new phase of my career, I never felt so ready for anything before in my life. I wasn’t lost because my teachers gave me direction.

“LCJVS,” she adds, “is a hidden gem that more people need to know about.”

Similar stories resound throughout the halls of Lorain County JVS as students enrolled in the Adult Career Center share success stories.

Dating back to the school’s founding in 1971, the Center offers a variety of program options to meet post-secondary education and training needs.

“When it comes to vocational education, the tide is really turning from what the perception used to be,” says Kristian Smith, director of the Lorain County JVS Adult Career Center. “These days, companies are placing a growing emphasis on employees earning certificates or specific credentials versus following a college-degree track. In our career development programs, students get the skills they need that lead to a job in the field they’ve chosen.”

Nine Career Development programs — Automotive Service Technician, Cosmetology, Dental Assisting/Radiography, Esthetician, Manicurist, Phlebotomy Technician, Precision Machine Technology, State Tested Nurse Aide and Welding/Fabrication — are designed to ensure students receive the education, training and industry-recognized credentials that are helpful for job entry and advancement. The programs include placement assistance and employability-skills training, opportunities for trade certifications and credentials in a variety of skilled areas and financial aid options. Before enrolling in one of the programs, students are required to attend an information session.

The Adult Career Center also creates customized programs for businesses of all sizes in a variety of industries, continuing education courses for adult students who need recertification in their field and special-interest classes for those wishing to gain knowledge for personal enrichment.

Smith points with pride to the offering he says has made the most significant impact: The Lorain County JVS Adult Diploma Program. Funded by the state and free to individuals who qualify, it gives Ohio residents 20 years of age and older the opportunity to earn a high school diploma along with industry-recognized credentials in the automotive, health care or manufacturing fields

“Many of the students who come through the program are the first members of their family to earn a high school diploma,” Smith says. “The Adult Diploma Program not only helps them do that but also makes sure there’s a job waiting for them when they complete it. Suddenly, they have a high school diploma and the marketable skills to earn a decent wage — along with the ability to pursue advanced education if they choose to. It’s such a game-changer.”