Warner Robins, Ga. – Greeting cards designed by Rhonda Miller, winner of the 2017 GED® Graduate of Outstanding Achievement for Georgia, sell without inspirational messages on the inside. Miller, a 1992 graduate of the Adult Education program at Central Georgia Technical College (CGTC), did not get her greeting card business off the ground until the beginning of the decade, but now with recognition of her entrepreneurial spirit by her peers, she is hoping her story might inspire the message someone writes in the card.
During the Technical College System of Georgia’s (TCSG) 2017 Adult Education Fall Conference and GED® Awards in September, Miller was recognized for her achievements and promotion of GED® program in the years since her completion. Brenda Brown, vice president of Adult Education at CGTC, nominated her.
“We are ecstatic as our adult education team celebrates and recognizes the achievements of Rhonda Miller as the recipient of the 2017 Georgia GED® Graduate Outstanding Achievement Award. Our team continues to build a legacy of meeting and exceeding state standards while building bridges to support our students in pursuit of their individual college, career, and life goals,” Brown said.
Miller’s cards are each, Hand Maide, as her part-time, up-and-coming business name indicates. Her “best” cards are what she called textured; layered back to front with decorative cloth, glossy buttons, and pillow-like sheets of fabric.
“The textured ones are the beautiful ones; when materials overlap,” she said, admitting that those pieces come from a very complex place. A place she shared with those in attendance at the conference and continues to share at events of the Division.
For the 47-year-old mother of three, that place began 31 years ago. At age 16, Miller mapped out her life; go to performing arts school, become a dancer. But of all those marks on the legend, kids, visual art, and dropping out of school, none were pre-identified.
For most 16 year-olds, school is a parental mandate, and mapping out one’s life includes getting a driver’s license, remembering to eat breakfast, and making a phone call to their mother when they arrive at a friend’s house. Personal cartography was a necessity at that age if Miller had hoped to navigate her life in any sort of direction. Raised in the foster care system, Miller really wanted, and arguably needed, to chart her own course. But even with that sort of drive, arrival isn’t a guarantee.
“Life doesn’t always turn out the way you want it to. One day, I woke up at age 21 with three children, no diploma, unemployed. My mindset changed and I decided to pursue my GED®,” Miller said.
Thrown into the equation for motivation to earn her GED® was an encounter with her OBGYN who, during an appointment, called her lifestyle and subsequent pregnancies, “trifling.” This interaction led Miller to want to show the doctor she could make it.
After Miller earned her GED® with the College she went back to the doctor, diploma in hand, and made her look-at-me-now statement. The doctor replied, “What’s next?” An unexpected question and one Miller keeps trying to answer every day since.
Several low-income jobs came immediately next, and none with stability. A perpetual series of hard life circumstances left Miller homeless, and it wasn’t until, in a free parenting class offered by a local family center, an older woman took Miller under her wing.
“I landed on my feet with the help of a mentor and some friends,” she said, “and I ended up with a free car, a place to live and a change of heart.”
The change of heart was in her approach to what she thought would come out of her life, and it came with a smile and an opportunity to dream big; two phrases that have now found their way onto the covers of her greeting cards. In the years between, Miller pursued a Customer Service Specialist certificate from CGTC, igniting her entrepreneurial fire.
Miller said through all that life has greeted her with, she discovered that when she decided to let people help her, it allowed her to see how she could be of help to others.
In many ways that discovery shaped the greeting cards.
“My best cards are ones made in depressed times,” she said, adding that it’s an act of self-reflection. “I leave them blank because when someone buys one, I want them to reflect and feel inspired to write how they feel.”
For now, Miller’s cards are made upon request by those who know her story, and people she is lucky enough to meet and network with. Depending on how she is feeling a card can take anywhere from ten minutes to two hours to make. Limited amounts of her cards are available for purchase at the Tubman Museum of African American History in Macon.
She has real plans to grow her business, even if those plans have to be scaled back.
Recently, she reached out to a large retailer and showed up at the store with about 20 cards asking if they would sell them. The manager at the store asked her where the rest of the cards were and if she had more in the car? Miller didn’t. She quickly learned that if you plan to sell in a big store, production has to increase.
“Rhonda is still learning how to be sure of the greatest potential inside her,” said Rena Canady-Laster, an adjunct instructor with the Adult Education Division, and a mentor to Miller in this process. “She still has some fear in continuing school, and getting ahead in life, but I feel that it is her time.”
Miller leaned on staff from the Adult Education Division through many stages of her life and they have helped mentor and guide her. She has volunteered and worked with community organizations including the Salvation Army and Volunteer Macon, and currently, works as a Family Service coordinator and the Macon Housing Authority.
Miller plans to enroll back at CGTC for the spring semester and pursue a degree.
For more information about the work and success stories of the Adult Education Division contact, Melodi Robinson at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo: Rhonda Miller, a GED® graduate from the Adult Education Division at CGTC has recently been named the winner of the Technical College System of Georgia’s 2017 GED® Graduate of Outstanding Achievement for Georgia.