Turning Tragedy Into Triumph With a Little Help From Her Friends

Employee Assistance Fund and Nursing Scholarship Give Jefferson Employee a Fresh Start

In the face of tragedy, Kim Mellon always remembers the sage advice of Mr. Rogers: “Look for the helpers,” she says, quoting the beloved children’s television icon. “There are always people who will help.”

When Mellon, 36, lost everything in a house fire in 2014, she didn’t have to look far. Her co-workers at Jefferson Health – New Jersey rallied around her and helped her get back on her feet.

“It was devastating,” remembers Mellon, a certified hemodialysis technician at the Voorhees unit who has been with Jefferson Health for 12 years. “I was worried about how I would provide a winter coat for my 10-year-old daughter—I wasn’t even thinking about household bills that were still rolling in even though I didn’t have a home.”

It was then that Mellon’s nurse manager told her about the Employee Relief Fund, which provides financial assistance to colleagues experiencing unexpected hardships, such as the loss of a home in a fire, the sudden death of a spouse, or overwhelming medical bills. She applied for, and received, a grant from the program.

“It was such a relief,” says Mellon, a single mother who rented the home that burned down. “After the fire, there were days that I felt like I didn’t want to get out of bed, but everyone that I worked with was there for me and supported me.”

Many of her co-workers donated their paid personal leave time so that Mellon could take time off to recover emotionally, and the Washington Township dialysis unit staff raised extra money to help with more bills and to replace clothing and personal items lost in the blaze.

But Mellon’s story doesn’t end there. She took a deep breath, evaluated her life, and then made a big leap of faith.

“I decided that the fire wasn’t going to define me. I was going to take tragedy and turn it into triumph,” she says. In 2012, Mellon graduated from Camden County College with an associate’s degree in applied science and big plans to enroll in the Jefferson School of Nursing. But the struggle to find a balance between working full time, being a single mother, and paying nursing school tuition put those plans on hold.

Rather than renting another house, Mellon decided she and her daughter, Nevaeh, would move in with her parents so that she could enroll in nursing school. The arrangement helped, yet she was still struggling to afford the tuition.

Once again, the “helpers” stepped in. “My boss and the people I work with at Jefferson Health suggested that I put an application in for the scholarship that they offered for the BSN program,” Mellon says. She took their advice and found out a few months later that she was chosen to receive the scholarship.

“I was in tears,” she says. “I’m just so thankful to the generous families that donate to the scholarship fund. It really does make a difference in the lives of so many people. There are a lot of people who would make great nurses or doctors, but aren’t able to do so financially because they have responsibilities within the home. Scholarships allow those people who are passionate about healthcare to go to school so that they can provide the best care for their patients.”

Mellon will graduate from the Jefferson School of Nursing in 2019 and looks forward to an exciting new career. She says she did it for herself, for her patients, and for her daughter, who is now 14 years old. “For her to see me persevere through this, to see that I wasn’t going to give up… I want nothing more than to be a role model for her and for her to know that anything’s possible.”

Now, the mother and daughter study together and share a great passion for learning.

The name Nevaeh, notes Mellon, is heaven spelled backward. “Because she’s my little piece of heaven.”

When she looks back on the fire and the struggles to achieve her dream of becoming a nurse, Mellon credits the people in her life with keeping her positive and always moving forward.

“The fire was a tragic situation, but the memory of the kindness that was bestowed upon us from my entire community—the support of my family and my co-workers—is a much more vivid memory than the tragedy itself,” she says. “That’s what you take with you—there are always people that help, so look for the helpers. I was very lucky that I didn’t have to look very far. They were right there, every day, when I went to work.”