HARRIMAN, Tenn. (WATE) — Student at Roane State Community College and mother of two boys Laura Looney received her associate degree in paralegal studies after losing her job during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Looney moved from Austin, Texas to Crossville, Tenn., after visiting her mother and being impressed with the community’s library and churches within Cumberland County.

In Crossville, she started with several jobs like the part-time position at the Tennessee Small Business Development Center in Oak Ridge.

When businesses started shutting down in March 2020, a congregant at Crossville’s First United Methodist Church recommended enrolling in Roane State and a former fiancé suggested studying to become a paralegal.

Looney utilized the Tennessee Reconnect Program, which helps adults earn their associate and baccalaureate degree by returning to higher education and enrolling in college tuition-free. She enrolled in the 2020 fall semester and because of the pandemic, her courses were taught online.

“I’ve been given the opportunity to feel like a student again,” Looney said.

This past semester was challenging for Looney because classes returned to in-person and gas prices were increasing across the nation.

“With gas prices, it’s killing me,” she said about the drive from Crossville to Harriman.

As Looney’s expenses started to increase, Roane State assisted by paying her mortgage for the month through the Pay-it-Forward: Emergency Aid Program.

“I’m so grateful for Roane State’s help,” Looney said.

Looney added that she was impressed with Roane State and wished it was a four-year school.

Roane State’s systems assist students with food, housing and technology. Financial assistance is available through the non-profit Roane State Foundation.

For more information on financial assistance at Roane State Community College, visit roanestate.edu/need and roanestate.edu/foundation.