Trio in Energy Services Earn Degrees

posted 6/2/22 -- Three staff members in LCCAA’s Energy Services Department earned degrees at the same time last month at Lorain County Community College.

Coordinator Darnella Higginbotham and advocates Shanna Philion and Xiomara Yochum each received an associate’s degree.

Higginbotham’s degree is in business and she plans to continue this fall at Cleveland State University working toward a bachelor’s degree in non-profit business administration. Her coursework continues a career shift she began when she first came to LCCAA for assistance a decade ago.

With several family members in health care fields, Higginbotham was a nursing student in clinicals while she was also a single mom of two. She came to the agency for help and was hired as a temp in 2012. She quickly became a permanent part of the team and has led the Energy Services Department as coordinator since 2016.

“It’s a transformation for me,” she said. “I truly enjoy working here at LCCAA and I enjoy helping families. The more I can take up space, the more I can do for the community.”

Higginbotham holds multiple medical-related certifications and still occasionally works shifts as an LPN. She said the skills she learned in health care transfer well to her current work.

“I am going from saving lives to changing lives and I want to continue making a difference,” she said. “I’ve learned compassion, how to be gentle and caring. All of that experience gave me what I need here.”

Having more degreed employees in her department elevates it, she added.

“We advocate for clients all the time. So to advocate for yourself while advocating for others is huge,” she said.

Yochum is no stranger to advocating. After immigrating to Lorain County from Ecuador at age 10, she became involved with a local Jehovah’s Witness congregation. She recently spent four years in missionary work returning to her the biggest port in her native country, Guaquaquil, to work on construction, safety and teaching.

When COVID-19 began to shut travel down, Yochum and her family returned home and she applied at LCCAA. She has been with the department for just over a year.

“I knew this was the place for me,” she said. “I really enjoy working with those who are less fortunate and my experience here at LCCAA has really enhanced that.”

Yochum, whose bilingual abilities are a strong asset in the department, received her degree in social work. She will continue as an honor student online through the University of Akron’s School of Social Work.

“I want to make a difference and I know my education is the only way to do that,” she said.

Yochum had high praise for Philion whom she called empathetic and “an amazing teacher.”

Philion’s degree is in psychology and her original plan was to become a psychologist. She found a different way to help people when she became a temporary worker in the Energy Services department last year.

“I still wanted to do something that let me engage with people but I like working in the office environment,” she said.

Philion plans to earn her bachelor’s degree in communications and human resources and already has credits from Cleveland State. She’s one of the first in her family to earn a degree which has been a real confidence booster. She is finishing her bachelor’s degree through Southern New Hampshire University online.

Her psychology background, as well as her previous work as a corrections officer at a behavior health facility, helps her to help others.

“It’s a good way for me to put myself in their shoes,” she said. “You never really know what someone is going through.”

Although none of the three knew the others were studying until graduation day, each cited the supportive atmosphere of the department as one of the reasons they were successful.

“We encourage one another constantly,” Yochum said. “We have a really great support system here.”