We Have Lived: Cynthia Brunty

January 24, 2023

Cynthia Brunty

Administrative Assistant, MSW Trainee, MHYFC

I have been a lifelong resident of this area and have never lived outside an hour’s radius of Athens County. I am a mother of four and grandmother of eight. I am a 4 H advisor and an avid gardener. I am an Administrative Assistant and lifelong learner. I am a helper. My journey to finding my real passion may have been longer than many people’s and had a lot of twists, turns and detours, but I would not change it for anything because my journey shaped who I am today.

I was very lovingly raised by Evangelical grandparents and grandpa was a preacher. My life, as you can imagine, was very sheltered and I grew up knowing nothing of the “outside world.” I fell in love with my high school sweetheart and married at not quite seventeen years old. I dropped out of school and returned four children later for my GED. I stayed at home 24/7 and the grocery store was my outing. I had a license, but I sometimes did not drive for a year at a time.

As life went on, the kids grew, and my spouse and I grew in different directions. Despite counseling, we ended up separating and divorcing. I felt like I had let my family down, but it had gotten to the point where I feared for our safety. I had never been on my own a day in my life and had never worked outside of babysitting and a brief time waitressing. I found myself alone and responsible for four children. Thankfully, good friends offered me a place to live until I got on my feet. I ended up having to get public assistance which required me to complete a Workforce Readiness training. At the end of the training, we were given options to choose for work placement. This was the choice that determined the course of my life journey.

I chose Rural Action, a local non-profit. I worked with them for 3 months and then applied to their AmeriCorps Vista Volunteer Program. I was accepted and got to travel to Chicago for training. It was my first time traveling and my first time flying. Even though I was administrative, I was able to work directly with landowners and loved it. We organized a huge two-day Landowners Conference every year and I was responsible for the registration and helped families who wanted to attend with volunteer and work opportunities to help cover their costs. I signed up for a second year of VISTA and then became permanent full-time staff with the Forestry Program. I was in the position for eight years and loved every minute of it. One of my mentors and one of the most influential people in my journey to this day was the executive director and founder of Rural Action. She gave me some of the best advice I have ever received. She said, “Do what makes your heart sing”.

My former boss had moved on to a national Sustainable Forestry non-profit and asked me to come to work for him. The organization was struggling, and I helped him move it from Rhode Island to Ohio. During my time there, I helped to organize a week-long conference in Washington DC called “Week in Washington” which was based around the Farm Bill. I was responsible for the planning and organization of this conference including helping to form a committee of delegates from across the United States, securing accommodations and meals and scheduling. This was an amazing experience and we got to visit CSREES, American Forests and Capital Hill to meet with Senators. Sadly, after a couple of years the organization had to dissolve.

It was at this point I decided to pursue my associate degree at Hocking College. I was terrified and doubted if I could do it at my age. I was a very non-traditional student. Thank goodness for two of the most amazing professors anyone could ever imagine. They were so supportive and talked about how non-traditional students usually did very well because of lived experience and they are more invested in learning. Those words alone gave me so much strength. I did very well during my time at Hocking and graduated with my Associate degree. After that time, the journey picked up speed. I went to work for an insurance agency and obtained my insurance agent’s license. I was working at this job when a friend and former colleague reached out to offer me a position with a solar company as office manager. It was a pay raise I could not refuse and medical coverage. When the solar tariffs came along, they experienced a huge loss and due to downsizing, I was laid off.

I signed up with a local employment agency and before long, I went to work at Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine as a temporary to direct hire in a director’s position. The Director was retiring, and I had one week to train with her. The medical school was in the middle of a major transition and in the middle of changing their entire curriculum, hiring a new Associate Dean and planning a build and move into a brand-new facility. I supported the Dean, sat on the Space Committee to discuss and decide on facilities accommodations and to help with planning the new building and the move. I had been there almost a year when my position was posted. It was assumed that the position would be mine, but that was not the case. The job description stated that a “bachelor’s degree was required.” HR called me as well as several other staff to express their disappointment that I could not even be considered for an interview because I did not have the degree. The new dean had assumed that I had a bachelor’s degree when the description was written. That being said, my time at the medical college ended.

On the positive side, I enrolled that same day for my bachelor’s in applied management. I needed to work and soon was back at Ohio University in undergraduate admissions on a very short-term temporary job. I had been at this job about 3 weeks when I got a call from the employment agency offering me a temporary to direct hire position at Integrated Services for Behavioral Health. I interviewed with Samantha Shafer, then Chief Transformation Officer and Heather Young. I immediately knew this was where I wanted to be. I have never wished so hard for anything in my life as I did to get the call that they wanted me to come to work for them. The call came and I could not have been more thrilled. This was in mid-December 2019 and as each day passed, I knew I was where I belonged. It felt like coming home. I was told in March 2020 that I was being hired permanently and my orientation was scheduled.
Then, covid 19 hit. It was much worse than anyone imagined and ISBH had a hiring freeze. I was laid off at the end and told they wanted me back in July. It was July, one year later. During this time, I was still working on my bachelor’s.. During my last semester, I needed another course to fill my schedule and I decided to take an Introduction to Social Work. This course was my light bulb moment. I thought “Wow, this is what I should have always been doing”! I talked to Samantha about it because she was my supervisor for my internship, and she asked if I ever thought of getting a master’s in social work. I really had not but it seemed the perfect idea once she shared it. I immediately checked into what I needed to do, Samantha wrote a letter of recommendation to the master’s program as well as one of the doctors I supported at Ohio University, and I was accepted.

Once I started my coursework, there was no doubt I was doing exactly what made my heart sing. I just started Spring 2023 semester and I plan to graduate with my MSW in Spring of 2024. My time at ISBH has been such a wonderful growth and learning experience. I have been able to help with the planning and procurement for the Mary Hill Youth and FamilyCenter Residential Facility for Youth and I am now completing my practicum working with the young people we serve.

Through my journey to this point two people’s words of wisdom guided me. My grandpa always said, “You never stop learning until you die” and I watched his eagerness for learning my entire life until he passed. The other words which have guided me well, were my first mentor and champion at Rural Action when she told me “Do what makes your heart sing.” One other inherited trait also helped me get through the toughest times and that was my grandma’s stubborn streak.

Life is a journey. Go where it leads you with stubborn determination, never stop learning and do what makes your heart sing.

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