After his small business crashed in 2020, Ling Centeno was excited to learn a new trade but a court sentence that sent him to jail for several months almost threw his plans off course.
Ling was doing carpentry in 2020 when the pandemic hit. Suddenly people didn’t want any workers coming to their homes to work. Ling wanted a career that would be stable for years to come and he was attracted to Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC). He decided to enroll in the HVAC Technician program at Florida Career College’s Orlando campus.
“I was excited,” Ling said. “It was something different. Something new. It was a good feeling knowing I was taking a course and would eventually have a career.”
HVAC came naturally to Ling. He enjoyed the hands-on learning and got straight A’s from the beginning.
Even though Ling was acing his classes and enjoying the content, his personal life did not make going back to school easy.
Ling was dealing with alcohol addiction, lost several family members to illness, and was fighting for custody of his children. With just two months left in his program, he ran into his biggest challenge yet. He was struggling to pay back child support when a judge sentenced him to time in jail.
“I explained to the school staff what I was going through, and they were very understanding and very encouraging,” Ling said. “I felt like giving it up, but they encouraged me.”
The staff at the school encouraged Ling to come back when he was released and continue in his program. Four months later, he returned and picked up classes where he left off.
“He was willing to pay his time and then he came back as a re-entry student,” said John Dickey, director of education at the Orlando campus. “He was so focused and so appreciative that he got a second chance to start the program and complete it.”
Mr. Dickey continued to meet with Ling monthly for the rest of his program and encouraged him to keep going.
“They called me constantly and made sure I stayed on my toes and kept my focus on the training,” Ling said. “It felt good. To have somebody around that’s encouraging and teachers who really care and hold you accountable. It’s always good to have people holding you accountable and making sure you do the right thing. It was awesome.”
“That’s what we are here for,” Mr. Dickey said. “We’re here for the students who need the second chance and need that encouragement that it takes to become what they signed up for. Some students sign up, drop and never come back but his determination made me feel very proud that I was able to be there to help and assist him.”
At the age of 42, Ling was able to graduate from the HVAC program and begin a new career.
“It feels good,” he said. “It’s something I know I worked hard for and through the rough ups and downs, I maintained. It was something I earned, for my future and for my kids too. I wanted to have a career doing something I like, and it feels good. It feels like a relief. No matter what comes, or what happens, try to maintain and keep your eye on the prize and know there’s a bright future ahead. Use that as encouragement and motivation. It is hard. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Stay strong, stay motivated, stay focused.”