October 30, 2009
Local laid-off state worker tries to cope
Cost cutting takes toll on local veteran employee

GOFFSTOWN - Layoffs have hit the state workforce hard. After members of the State Employees' Association rejected a contract that would have included furloughs, Gov. John Lynch went ahead with layoffs, in order to satisfy a legislative mandate that required him to cut $25 million in personnel costs. 

As a result, 192 people were laid off while 16 others took retirement. Eighty-eight workers were demoted or reassigned. Hardest hit were the human services and corrections departments. 

But the numbers don't tell the stories of the employees themselves - their contributions to their workplaces or the personal hardships many of them now face. 

Goffstown resident Carole Whitcher is one of them. 

Incarcerated women have trained kittens, been certified as energy auditors and learned English because of Whitcher. 

Whitcher, 59, has worked for the state for 15 years, 11 as a teacher at the women's prison in Goffstown. 

"I love my job," Whitcher said. "I like seeing the light get turned on for women, like 'I could really go to college.' I love when they get excited about what they can do with the rest of their life." 

Teaching and learning are Whitcher's passions. When her children were 1 and 3, she returned to school for her master's degree, despite the challenges of being a single mother. 

When Whitcher first took the job at the prison, she focused on helping women get their GEDs and teaching English as a second language. When there was a push to bring in more high school courses, Whitcher earned a second master's degree in earth science and became licensed to teach the subject at the prison. 

She also started a variety of unique programs. She worked with UNH Cooperative Extension to teach 10 women to become certified master gardeners. Working with the Animal Rescue League, she designed a program called Meow Babies, where 150 prisoners learned to take care of foster kittens and prepare them for adoption. She worked with PSNH to teach 45 women to become certified energy auditors. She started a book club. She had the women read college textbooks on tape to help blind UNH students. 

"When I started at the prison, I was asked to increase the thirst of women to broaden their knowledge," Whitcher said. "I've done that." 

Whitcher hoped to work five more years to save up for retirement. 

She already has had a difficult year - her mother died in January, her ex-husband committed suicide in April, and her best friend died of a heart attack. 

When Whitcher was laid off, she said, "I felt like someone kicked me in the stomach. I felt sad, angry. . . . I'd done everything the Department of Corrections has asked me to do." 

Whitcher will be looking for jobs, maybe in energy management. Her dream is to travel to state parks across the country and give presentations on the environment. "I know I need to find another job, not only to keep busy, but I have more to offer," she said. "Hopefully there will be an opportunity to save more money for the long life I hope to live."


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