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A single mother of three, Tara Hensley of Harlan County was struggling to make ends meet. Working at a fast-food restaurant was not paying the bills. She knew she had to turn her life around.

Receiving training to improve her workforce skills, taking a college course, or looking for another job seemed beyond her reach. With limited workforce skills and a shortage of jobs in Eastern Kentucky, Hensley did not have the financial resources even if such opportunities were available.

Thanks to funding assistance from The Center for Rural Development’s COAL (Community Oriented Access to Learning) program, Hensley was able to attend Southeast Kentucky Community & Technical College and start a journey toward a new career.

In less than 10 months, she completed recovery coach classes and graduated as a certified coach providing peer support, case management, and guidance for individuals with substance abuse disorders.

Hensley is employed as a recovery coach specialist in the emergency room at the Hazard ARH Regional Medical Center and making three times more than what she would working in the fast-food industry.

“Honestly, there aren’t words to describe the gratitude I have for the COAL program. I was a single mother with three kids working in fast food. I am a recovered addict and I have things in my past that haunt me and kept me from ever gaining employment,” she said. “If it wasn’t for the COAL program, I would have never been able to afford to go to school, pay for my books, or even buy a laptop to complete online courses.”

The COAL program provides funding support for unemployed and underemployed individuals in coal-impacted Kentucky counties to receive education and training that will help them find gainful employment.

“This experience has helped me literally to turn my life completely around,” Hensley said. “I can pay my bills, buy my kids things that I could never before. I am so excited for Christmas this year. I know that may not mean much to a lot, but this year I do not have to worry. I don’t have to struggle. I am working a job with benefits. How amazing is that!”

For more information about the COAL program, call The Center for Rural Development at 606-677-6000 or email

The coal-impacted Kentucky counties served by the COAL program include Bell, Clay, Floyd, Harlan, Johnson, Knott, Knox, Laurel, Leslie, Letcher, McCreary, Perry, Pulaski, and Whitley.