Leanna Sparks Success!
It was a cold snowy December in the holler of Avery County's Birchfield Creek, 1981, when the family's first child, a baby girl, was born. Embraced in the rugged arms of five thousand foot Big Yellow Mountain, this daughter was forced to grow up quickly in a hard life full of responsibility in her tiny western North Carolina hometown of Minneapolis, where she helped take care of her younger sister. Nestled in shadowed valleys and coves, this tiny settlement boasted a turn-of-the-century post office, a country store complete with filling station, and a brown river-rock schoolhouse. All around Minneapolis somber white church steeples and gray chimney smoke stretched heavenward through thick foliage of aged Hemlock and White Pine....
"Due to overwhelming challenges in my young life, I left public school at age 15, even before completing the 9th grade," shared Leeanna Sparks with undertones of sadness and regret in her warm polished voice...."Math was my strongest and most favorite subject in school; I have always enjoyed working with numbers."
Today as she sits perfectly groomed and confident in her comfortable and finely furnished private office at Banner Elk Best Western Lodge, Leeanna Sparks reflects on the journey which has brought her to the career she loves today as Guest Service Manager with one of the country's most widely trusted and respected tourist service hotel chains.
"After I dropped out of school in 199I, I found comfort working in restaurants. I was very independent and moved out of my parent's home when I was seventeen. I tried every aspect of the food service world from washing dishes to hostessing, from meal preparation to serving, and soon learned that my greatest strength (and happiness) was working 'out front' directly with the guests," said Leeanna.
"As time passed, I was hired as office manager for High Country Hearth and Chimney. Following my years there I accepted a five year seasonal supervisory position with Boston Culinary Group located at Sugar Mountain. When this job ended, my life was at a definite turning point. I knew it was time for me to 'buckle down' and get serious about finishing my high school education. I had been attending GED class 'off and on' for probably 10 years, but now I was serious about completing this educational chapter from my past. Once I was determined and attended class regularly, I was ready to graduate in a matter of weeks."
"However, had it not been for the free morning and evening GED classes at the Mayland College Avery Learning Center in Newland, I would never have been able to attend class regularly and successfully complete my GED," shared Leeanna. “There was just not enough time for me to travel all the way to Mayland's main campus GED classes in Spruce Pine, plus the fact that I was often faced with transportation challenges. The MCC Avery Learning Center instructors were all wonderfully patient, helpful, and caring. Sharon Vance, Gina Coffey, and Dinah Cuthbertson are all top quality faculty who prepared me to successfully earn my high school credentials. They encouraged me to have the confidence I needed to move forward with my life and career. They introduced me to various other Mayland Community College and community services, all of which served as lifelines which helped pave the path leading to where I am today and where I plan to be in the future."
"Mayland Community College's Jenny Harpold, Shirley Anders, and Elizabeth Custode all three helped build a tremendous support system so that I was able to continue my education with Personal Résumé, Notary Public, Office Procedures, Fundamentals of Accounting and Computer Applications classes. They “made it all happen” for me by informing me where to go for additional support and guidance. Also, I have special appreciation for Debbie Bowman (with WAMY/Community Action) who helped provide funding for my Notary Class and seal in addition to blessing me with endless support in countless areas of my educational successes” smiled Leeanna. “ Too, I must thank an exceptional instructor, Joe Walsh, who made learning math fun and easy in our accounting class.”
"As for my message to teenagers and parents, I would encourage you to stay in school, study hard, do your very best, and graduate. But, when unfortunate circumstances prevent this from happening, please consider talking with the Mayland Learning Lab staff about completing your high school education with them," continues Leeanna.
When asked to share her dreams for the future, Leeanna reflected on personal influences. "I loved my grandparents, the late Fred and Dixie Sparks, so much; they helped raise me and were a strong and loving part of my life. When my Granny Sparks passed away a few years ago, I inherited her abundance of house plants which I enjoy nurturing and watching grow. My favorites are the aloe plants; I also love to work with tulips and roses, and was fortunate to get to attend the Iowa Tulip Festival (with partner, Reid Carraway) a few years back." (Leeanna did a beautifully colorful power point presentation on the tulip festival in one of her Mayland classes.) She continued," I would enjoy owning my own business one day, and since I love working with plants/flowers so much, I have entertained the possibility of a career in floral design. Too, I love animals (Leeanna has a dog and several cats) and I have considered professional animal grooming......and, of course, I hope to continue my education."
"I am grateful," recounted Leeanna thoughtfully, "that I was able to return to my childhood community so I could help take care of my family's home place where my mother, Sheila Sparks, still lives today. I recall with fondness my upbringing in the local Methodist Church, where Pastor David Hopson led me to my faith in Christ Jesus and baptized me as a child and where I attended summer vacation Bible schools as a little girl. I am thankful for a very special mentor, Sherry Sweat, who I could (and still can) always count on to listen to my problems and heartaches when I was fifteen; she was my main encourager during those most difficult years. My partner for twelve years, Reid Carraway (from Iowa) , is my caring and supportive “rock”, who continues to build me up in all my endeavors; he always encourages me to improve myself and to become the very best at whatever I do. Reid tutored me in math and provided me with a terrific support system while I was attending GED classes. Also, I am so blessed that my grandparents, Preacher Harry Lee and Ann Turbyfill are alive and well today and add so much joy to my life. Ours is a musical family and every July 4th, we all get together for a big Bar-b-que and karaoke with all the family making music and singing."
This December, as Avery County's cold snowy weather ushers in Leeanna's birthday, she can look back on her life's thirty year journey with a thankful heart reflecting important lessons learned, worthy goals met, a colorful array of exciting dreams for her future, and for special folks along the way who have been an encouraging, positive and loving influence in her life.
Like Leeanna, you too have the golden opportunity to prepare for promising future opportunities. The Learning Lab faculty and staff at Mayland Community College's four locations are eager to serve you as you study for your GED, polish your reading, math and/or writing skills, or prepare for the college placement exam. Our FREE morning, mid-day and evening classes are structured for you to attend at YOUR convenience and to study at your own rate of speed without pressure. Remember, "No place so near can take you so far - The Learning Lab at Mayland Community College - We are small enough to care, BIG enough to serve!" For additional information, please call 828-765-7351,ext 291 / 216, or drop by one of our four convenient class locations closest to your home.