Carrie Jones admits her younger years were a challenge. She has proven, however, that even after the toughest of times, anyone can be successful in both their educational and career pursuits.

Jones, 51, was born in New England but lived in six states before starting middle school as a Navy brat. Her husband, Patrick, is also a Navy vet and a virtual middle school teacher. The couple lives in Orlando and has three sons –  Nathan, Nicholas, and Noah – as well as a 10-year-old greyhound, Gavin.

Why It's Never Too Late for Higher Education

Jones admits she didn't have a solid foundation to pursue college immediately after high school. But she demonstrated that it's never too late to do so, earning her Associate of Arts degree from Valencia College in her mid-40s in 2016.

"I actually graduated with my oldest son, Nathan, on Mother's Day," Jones explains. "Because of some family situations, I didn't get to walk for my high school graduation. So, getting to walk at age 46 was a huge deal for me. Nobody in my family had attained more than a high school education. The idea of college was never even discussed."

She then enrolled in Columbia College where she earned an online bachelor's in general studies with minors in psychology and human services, graduating in 2018.

Discovering Saint Leo University

Jones says she was searching on Google for online graduate programs in human services administration. That's when she came across the MS in human services administration degree program page from Saint Leo University.

"I read over the program description and literally felt like it was written specifically for me," she says. "It didn't just speak to me. I felt like it was the universe saying to me, 'We see what you're doing and want you to do more, so we created this program for you."

In the fall of 2018, she enrolled in the online graduate degree program. She explains what was most appealing about it.

"The program allows you to structure an organization you'd like to start as the coursework goes on."

Impressive Instructors in the Master's in Human Services Administration Program

She can't say enough positive things about her professors.

"Every single one of my professors was amazing. What I loved was that each one was passionate about the human services field as a whole, but they also had a specific passion for what they were teaching and their areas of specialty."

She adds that her instructors even let her customize some aspects of her coursework.

"In some classes, I had to modify the syllabus a bit. They always allowed me to be flexible. My final graduate project involved writing a grant. They allowed me to apply this work to my own foundation."

In her view, she says Drs. Nancy Wood, the director of the graduate human services administration program, and Dr. Jenenne Valentino-Bottaro were like "guardian angels" to her.

"Dr. Wood has mentored me and has contributed to my growth so much both personally and professionally. She is so patient and has been such a tremendous resource. To me, this sums up the concept of human services. She is a gift to Saint Leo University and to this field because she's so passionate about what she does."

Ultimately, she'd love to be able to return to the Saint Leo human services administration program as an instructor to pay it forward.

"It would be a dream for me to come back and teach in the program," she says.

Believing in Saint Leo University's Core Values

Jones knows the six Saint Leo University core values – respect, community, excellence, personal development, responsible stewardship, and integrity – like the back of her hand. She attributes this to how effectively they were woven into her curriculum.

"After my third class, I was reciting the core values," she says. "They are very important core values for all of us to have. I talk to our staff about them all the time and see how they apply to the work we do every day."

Finding Her Footing

"I knew from a young age that I wanted to start a nonprofit to serve the community and help provide any services it may be lacking," Jones explains.

She had an initial career idea in her mind but quickly decided to pivot to a new focus

"I originally wanted to counsel military veterans," she confides. "I realized that I wasn't cut out for that line of work. I am so empathetic and want to save others. When you work in human services, you have to help others save themselves by serving as a resource for your clients. It goes back to that old saying: 'Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.'"

For several years, she worked for Dr. Daniel Pavlik, a well-respected chiropractor in central Florida.

"He started his practice in Orlando over 40 years ago called Pavlik Center for Health and Wellness. In 2016, I came to work for him doing physician relations. My role was to build relationships with both holistic and medical providers who had patients dealing with pain to educate them on our services."

Launching a Human Services Nonprofit Organization

In November of 2020, she began working with Dr. Pavlik and his team to launch Access, The Health and Wellness Association (AHWA) in the Orlando area.

"Our mission is to support proactive wellness rather than reactive medicine," Jones explains. "We want people to understand their needs and potential options before they get sick. We educate medical providers on multiple modalities on dealing with health ailments by creating a foundation to make people not as reliant on medication. We also educate patients on how they can help themselves."

One main goal of the organization is to empower patients by informing them of their health and wellness options. This includes both holistic and conventional approaches.

"When people are in pain, they want instant gratification, but they don't understand what taking a pill might do to them or their family. Let's get an X-ray. Let's look at nutritional and chiropractic options."

They also started a telehealth program called Access Connected Care through which patients can virtually connect with physicians.

"We want to make sure healthcare is accessible to everyone," she says. "Plus, so many individuals out there are either uninsured or underinsured. We work closely with our care providers to come up with affordable pricing options on labs and other routine procedures to help people maintain good health."

In addition, they launched the Prevention Generation program through which patients can get helpful information on diet, exercise, and proven wellness strategies while also connecting with providers in their area. They then started the AHWA Foundation.

"We wanted to start this foundation to fundraise and obtain grants in order to help provide even more services and resources on proactive wellness. Dr. Pavlik deserves this foundation to be his legacy."

A Moment of Reflection

Jones says her involvement in this new organization and its overall mission have made for such a rewarding, life-changing experience for her.

"I am both personally and professionally fulfilled to be a human services professional and to get to work with such a fantastic group of people. I'm so grateful to my team, and I know full well that I wouldn't be where I'm at today without their support."

Why It's the Little Things for the Joneses

According to Jones, she and her family are perfectly content with the little things in life when it comes to enjoyment outside of their work.

"I love meditation, reading, sitting out by the pool, gardening, and listening to jazz music," she says. "We have created a life from which we don't need a vacation or anything lavish."

Photo credit: The photograph included in this blog article was provided by Carrie Jones and is used with permission.