ASHLAND, Ore. — Today Mary Jane Feetham is the very picture of academic success, with every indication that she will graduate with her degree in June before taking her exam to become a certified public accountant, according to Southern Oregon University (SOU). But that success comes as the culmination of significant adversity.
Just five years ago Feetham was on the verge of homelessness, having ended a relationship to escape domestic violence, and unsure where to find a safe place for her and her three children to stay.
Feetham found herself at the Dunn House, a shelter operated by the Comunity Works nonprofit in Medford. While trying to determine what she could do and where she could go, Feetham had to live without her children for two months, SOU said.
Eventually Feetham did find help in several places — first, with a caseworker from the Department of Human Services (DHS) who helped her find the resources to rent a place of her own and qualify for government assistance. Then, with the Rogue Educational Achievement project (REACH), which helped Feetham set career goals, enroll at Rogue Community College (RCC), and get a voucher so she could commute from Butte Falls and get daycare for her young children.
“There are resources out there, but so many people don’t even know they have an opportunity,” Feetham said. “Generational poverty is pounded into people. These nonprofits (can) become their support.”
Feetham got her Associate degree from RCC before transferring to SOU — still struggling to keep her family afloat by looking for every opportunity to save money while commuting from Butte Falls for morning classes.
“She is inspirational and proof that where there is a will, there’s a way,” said Joan McBee, an SOU business professor and department chair.
Even before reaching the end of her tenure at SOU, the university said that Feetham has been finding opportunities to give back to her community — writing a pivotal report on unmet needs in the Jackson County community, and then serving as a grant-writer for ACCESS.
“I could write at home and earn a living while going to school,” Feetham said. “Eventually, I had to devote more time to school.”
While continuing her education and earning multiple grants and scholarships, SOU said that Feetham has also continued to find ways to give back — while now serving as an intern with a local accounting firm. In her words, Feetham is “breaking the mold of welfare recipients.”