AUGUSTA, Maine — When Maureen Pike lost her office job in early 2005, the Washington County resident tapped into state programs that led to her current career as a registered nurse.
Pike could never have imagined that the experience would also earn her an invitation to the White House 4½ years later.
On Friday, the Baileyville resident and mother was given the honor of introducing President Obama at an event focused on expanding opportunities for unemployed workers to receive training in other careers. She also had a chance to meet privately with the president and a woman with a similar tale of turning economic misfortune into new opportunities.
“He sat and talked with us about our lives and our kids,” she said Friday afternoon just before boarding a plane back to Maine. “It was just really nice.”
During the ensuing press conference, Obama announced that his administration was taking steps to allow laid-off workers to receive unemployment benefits while enrolled in educational or training programs. Although Maine does not, many states prohibit giving unemployment benefits to people who enroll in school shortly after being laid off.
The Obama administration also will encourage colleges to base an unemployed person’s eligibility for federal Pell Grants on their current economic status, not on how much they made last year when they still had a job.
“Together, these changes will increase access to education and opportunity for hundreds of thousands of workers who’ve been stung by this recession — people just like Maureen,” Obama said during the event. “And like her, many may take advantage of one of America’s underappreciated assets — and that’s our community colleges.”
In Pike’s case, she was able to take classes in nursing at Washington County Community College in Calais and still receive unemployment benefits under the Dislocated Workers Program. She eventually received Pell Grants to help pay for her educational costs and other assistance from the college’s career center.
All of the help enabled the mother of twins to complete her nursing degree.
“There would not have been any way I would have been able to do it” otherwise, said Pike, who now works at Calais Regional Hospital.
Pike said she was recommended for participation in Friday’s event by Washington County Community College’s career center, which had been in turn contacted by the Maine Department of Labor after getting a query from the White House.
Pike, who was just contacted Tuesday about the trip, said she initially thought she would be part of a larger group. It wasn’t until she was reading a script of the event that she realized she was introducing Obama.
The Baileyville resident said she became even more nervous moments before the event when she learned that she would walk out in front of the president. But Obama eased Pike’s nerves, she said, by placing his hand on her shoulder and calmly assuring her he’d be right behind her.
“He was just amazing,” she said.