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August 18, 2018

Chris and Kelcey Reed walked together through addiction recovery, then again when they crossed the stage at JCCC to receive their GED® certificates.

Kelcey Reed and her father, Chris Reed, earned their Kansas high school diplomas through Johnson County Adult Education’s GED® Test Prep courses.

Parents and their children experience a lot of milestones together in life. However, it’s not typical for a father and his daughter to march into an auditorium side by side to receive their high school diplomas on the same day. What’s even more triumphant? They broke the debilitating chains of drug addiction together, too.

Sound like a movie? To Chris and Kelcey Reed, it seemed like one.

The experience was surreal for Kelcey. “Not odd, but incredibly cool,” she said. Chris added the experience has been one of the best in his life – at least so far.

Intent on remaining clean and improving their chances for future careers, they concentrated on attending Johnson County Adult Education classes to prepare for GED® testing.

Chris’ story

Let’s take a glimpse into the past. Chris’ drug addiction started in the 1990s. He was 13 when he began smoking the marijuana that grew in his neighbor’s backyard. By 15, he was a full-blown addict. He was asked by the principal to check out of school. He signed the forms in the office and didn’t look back until later in life, when he wanted to make more money as a union worker.

It wasn’t just a higher paying job that motivated him. The stigma of not having a diploma haunted him. It had undermined his self-confidence for decades. He had overcome his addiction, a tall hurdle in improving his quality of life, but yearned to take care of another piece of unfinished business – he wanted a high school diploma.

To stay in the union training program, Chris had to pass the four required GED® tests – Social Studies, Science, Math and Reasoning through Language Arts – in 15 months. Chris knew the intellectual battle would be a hard fight.

He did it in nine.

“I was ready to set a new example for all of my kids,” Chris said. “My main message now is to change family patterns that are destructive. My family is breaking this cycle!”

Chris has been asked to share his inspiring story at JCAE’s annual volunteer appreciation banquet and several local inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation facilities.

“I’d put what JCAE did for my self-esteem equal to what rehab did for my addiction,” he said. “I like being able to check the box on applications and forms that shows I’m a graduate. That internal gnawing is gone, and I’m able to make a higher wage.

“I haven’t looked back. I just keep stepping.”

Kelcey’s story

Drugs also robbed Kelcey of a traditional high school experience.

“I always thought I’d be nothing because I didn’t plan on getting clean,” she said. “At the beginning of my recovery, my dad talked with me about joining him to get a GED®. It made me think.”

That heartfelt father-daughter conversation led to them striving for the goal together. Now clean for over a year, Kelcey can celebrate earning her GED® – along with a $1,200 JCAE scholarship.

“When I studied, it made me see that I could be more than I ever thought I would be,” Kelcey said. “When I would pass a test, it gave me another piece of hope for a better life.”  

Earning her GED® is only step one in Kelcey’s new list of life goals. With the help of a JCAE Transition Coach, she enrolled in classes at Johnson County Community College. She’s pursuing an associate degree in liberal arts so she can later earn a psychology degree and become a substance abuse counselor.

With this education, she can use her life experience to turn others around who are on a self-destructive path and need hope.

“I am looking forward to starting at JCCC,” Kelcey said. “I’m terrified, but I’m looking forward to being the best me that I can be.”

Sometimes, it takes a village

Chris and Kelcey were lifelines for each other. Chris said the $50 JCAE materials fee was “the best money he’d ever spent.” He paid his daughter’s fee, too. 

“It showed me that after all the things I’d done, I could have another shot at life,” Kelcey said. “I had a lot of family support.”

When Chris first started classes, his 15-year-old son would come home from high school, where he was a freshman, and tease/encourage his dad with a “What’s up, freshman?” After Chris had been in class for a while, his instructors told him to let his son know he had moved on to senior status.

Both Chris and Kelcey had to exercise discipline. Kelcey’s schedule required mostly online study. When JCAE instructors or volunteers didn’t see her for a while, they didn’t hesitate to give her a call.

“Everyone at JCAE was super understanding,” Kelcey said. “They knew I was going through a tough time and they really pushed me, in a good way, to do the best that I could. I really grew to love them. They believed in me and that felt good.”

Chris worked with JCAE instructors and volunteers every Monday and Wednesday evening at the Antioch branch of the Johnson County Library. He admitted it wasn’t always easy to go to class. Volunteers called to check on him, too.

“I mostly worked with a volunteer until I grasped the subject. They gave me a great sense of security and helped me learn the material,” he said. “The first test gave me a fever to do more, and then I kicked it into gear when I passed. I thought I failed it, but I passed!”

Your tomorrow can start today

If you’re ready to commit to a more promising future or just curious about what it takes to earn your Kansas high school diploma, contact the Johnson County Adult Education office at 913-469-7621.