Voncilita, or “Vonnie,” grew up on the [Eastern] Shore. Originally from Painter, she developed an early interest in big trucks that were a fixture in her neighborhood. The sight of a tractor trailer could be intimidating to a young child, with the sheer size and the bellowing roar of the diesel engine. That, however, didn’t deter a young Vonnie from a growing interest in these massive machines.
At Nandua High School Vonnie enjoyed computers and tech. She also gained knowledge and confidence through teachers and instructors like Diane Ames and David Sabatino. She regrets not following up on that interest after graduating, but as many do, she decided to go ahead and enter the workforce out of high school. It happened to be a job as a flagger, directing traffic around road projects, that brought her full circle back to an interest in trucks that she had not forgotten. That combined with a spark provided by a family member, would help show her the way.
Vonnie’s cousin Derek Hill completed his Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) certification through [FastForward at] Eastern Shore Community College, and CDS, which provides CDL instruction for several of [Virginia’s Community Colleges]. Vonnie describes this moment as when her vision became clear. This is what she wanted, and in the fall of 2019, she entered the CDL Program at ESCC. Helping her along the way was ESCC FastForward Career Coach Barb Rang and CDS Student Coordinator, K.C. Parks.
Just as things seemed to be moving towards Vonnie following in her cousin Derek’s footsteps, life intervened in a sudden and unfortunate incident. On Dec. 27, 2019, Vonnie was innocently caught in the crossfire of a shooting that resulted in three gunshot wounds. In the blink of an eye she was in Sentara Norfolk General Hospital with severe injuries. Recovery and healing were slow and challenging, with release from the hospital not coming until mid-February after multiple surgeries and procedures. Vonnie had adopted a mantra of “keeping your eye on the prize,” and even with this awful and unforeseen event slowing down her goals, she remained determined to resume her studies at ESCC and obtain her certification. Rang and Parks, in their recurring roles as staunch supporters of Vonnie’s dream, were right there and ready to get Vonnie caught up and back to the business of truck driving.
As fate would have it, COVID was just becoming a consideration and remote learning was the norm. This worked in Vonnie’s favor as she healed physically, and played catch-up with the course curriculum. Soon Vonnie was back on the driving range with her CDS instructors, and [Rang] and Parks cheering her on.
“She’s the model of sheer will and determination,” Rang said. “Her dedication to what she set out to do never wavered, even through overwhelming circumstances.”
In courageous fashion, and in pursuit of that big roaring rig that she had set her sights on since her youth, Vonnie graduated with her CDL certification in October at ESCC. She is currently in Texas training for a driving position with a prominent trucking service. While no one would anticipate the incredible hurdles Vonnie endured while pursuing her goals, she acknowledges that the caring and support she received as a student at ESCC provides a real example to anyone embarking on their educational journey…Eastern Shore Community College is here for students, in good times, and bad.
Note: This story was provided by our colleagues at Eastern Shore Community College. To learn more about its FastForward training programs, tap here.