Healing is a process: Human services technology student Kenneth LaRue
Published 1:32 pm Tuesday, October 3, 2023
WASHINGTON, N.C.— When Kenneth LaRue left the U.S. Army after eight years, he struggled to adjust, seeking to earn a degree in criminal justice at Beaufort County Community College, but eventually he used his healing process to pursue a degree in human services technology. This was inspired by his struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), his own family issues, and seeing that he has something to offer to the field of counseling. After his advisor Ann Barnes looked at his transcript, she recommended that LaRue could also earn an Associate in Applied Science in Criminal Justice Technology. He is now on track to earn two AAS degrees and other certificates in Spring 2024.
When he was 17, LaRue joined the U.S. Army, serving for over eight years and deploying twice to Afghanistan. During this time, he had no support from his family.
“I deployed twice. My mom came and saw me once, and nobody saw me before I left to go to war,” he says, “but knowing that I was safe, she saw me once. I only received one care package, and that was a care package I had to pay for. So, is it really a care package?”
After leaving the military, he wanted to use his background to study criminal justice at BCCC, but his PTSD derailed this plan. He was staying with his mother at the time, who ended up kicking him out. With no place to stay, he fled to Texas where he spent eight months without a home.
He slept on his father’s couch or with friends to get back on his feet. He continued his education at Lone Star College in Texas, and while there, he worked at a pharmaceutical company. Constantly working when not in class eventually caught up to him, and he was injured on the job, breaking two ribs. He was out of work on worker’s compensation for eight weeks, and when he returned, his employer put him in the same position.
LaRue found a position with the Department of Justice working in the prison system, but within a month, that environment triggered his PTSD. The Veterans Administration removed him from working, and he continued his criminal justice studies.
When his father passed away, his support system in Texas fell apart. “The family that he had started while in Texas didn’t really want me there in the first place, so they completely did away with me. I went into a complete mental breakdown,” he says.
He looked at the credit hours he had earned with a new perspective. He could change course and make a difference in people’s lives.
“With me going through everything in life and the counseling that I do, I wanted to give back so that people could avoid the situations that I’ve been in,” he says. “I wanted to be a difference maker in other people’s lives as people have made a difference in my life.”
He also wanted to be an example for his children. “I want to show my kids when they get older that no matter what situation life throws at you, you could push through and persevere.”
He started working with a nonprofit, One Body One Source, which takes underserved youth including those that have been given up for adoption, living in shelters, or lacking positive role models in their lives. Balancing college and work got complicated, so he put his passion into helping coach Little League Baseball. His son started playing, so it gave them more time to interact, and it gave him the opportunity to mentor kids on and off the field.
“I want to show them that the discipline they apply on the field can carry over to discipline off the field and help them achieve what they want in everyday life,” he says.
Another area in which he wants to work is with veterans. He admits that the Bureau of Veterans’ Affairs does a lot, but that gaps need to get filled. During the pandemic, no groups were meeting, so veterans such as himself could not access the counseling support they needed. The group started meeting up outside of the VA through group chats for support. This group now helps with out-patient support in Greenville.
“Sometimes it’s harder for veterans to relate to civilians, but with me being a veteran, but it’s easier for us to relate to veterans that have been through it,” he recognizes. “Being able to relate to people is one thing, but being able to coach, motivate and encourage is a different thing. I know where you’ve been, and I’ve been there and come out of it, then that’s that beacon of hope that I’m trying with share to you.”
“They say that behind every smile, there’s another face, and a lot of times, even the individual with a smile doesn’t know what that face looks like. Healing is always a process.”
His healing and his journey have built the empathy needed to take on the difficult situations that adults and children who have been cast out, and his perseverance with his education has meant that he will have two degrees and a wider background to help him in his career.
He reflects on his current studies. “You have to find the counselor within you. It brings out a lot of characteristics that you don’t necessarily think about yourself, because it forces you to think deeply. And in doing that, you’re like, wow, I never saw myself as being this type of person. It forces you to apply those things in your life. It’s been a great part of me realizing like who I am.”