A college degree changes the trajectory of the graduate’s life and sets a new standard for the entire family. Just ask South Piedmont Community College alumna Rene’ Viser.
“My whole life is about breaking patterns, about not accepting what I know and what I was surrounded by,” said Viser. “I try to instill that in others now. Just because you grew up one way doesn’t mean you have to accept that’s the way it is.”
In May, Viser was named center director of Daymark Recovery Service’s FBC Union Detox Center. It’s a position that’s a long way, both physically and figuratively, from where she started in life.
Viser grew up in a poverty-stricken area of San Francisco, one of six siblings raised by a single mother who struggled with both substance abuse addiction and mental illness.
“The environment I grew up in was crime-ridden. It was the norm to be on drugs, to not finish school, to be a single teen mom, to not go to college, for males not to live past 21, to live in low-income housing and be on public assistance,” she said.
From a young age, Viser refused to accept any of those things as her fate.
“I didn’t realize it at the time, but school and sports were my coping mechanism. I played basketball, softball, did gymnastics and was on the swim team. I played the saxophone. I did anything to keep me busy and away from my home.”
Her myriad activities weren’t enough to keep Viser in school. She dropped out of high school, she said, because she was bored and because she felt like she didn’t have the resources she needed to be successful.
“I had raggedy clothes. I didn’t have any money and often went hungry,” Viser said. “I just didn’t feel like I belonged.”
Still, she refused to become a statistic of any sort. She earned her high school equivalency diploma and became an insurance agent, managing her own insurance agency for five years. To have more time with her kids, she sold her business and went to work for a major insurance company, which eventually brought her to North Carolina.
Her work allowed her to buy her own home and provide her family with the stability she’d lacked as a child. Yet, she longed to return to school and build a career through which she could use her own life experiences to help others. When her oldest son graduated high school and headed to college, she decided to return to school as well.
Viser enrolled at South Piedmont in 2008 at age 45. Three years later, she graduated with her associate degree in human services. She went on to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees as well.
Her children were watching — and supporting—her every move.
“I think I changed their perspectives on what’s possible in life. One of my sons has his bachelor’s degree now. The other runs his own business, and my daughter has a professional license. My children have lived in Japan, Florida, and New York. They’ve learned that just because they were born in a place doesn’t mean they have to die there, or just because they grew up one way doesn’t mean it has to always be that way,” Viser said.
Now at 60, as the new center director at Daymark, Viser oversees a team of approximately 20 employees that includes a physician, nurses, medical technologists, an after-care coordinator, crisis workers and medical records administrators. Daymark is a nonprofit organization that provides mental health and substance abuse treatment options.
Her new position represents the culmination of her life experiences to this point. As center director, she and her team help patients change the trajectories of their own lives.
She recalled a patient who after leaving Daymark went on to complete a yearlong sobriety program and is now working and leading a stable life.
“That’s success,” she said.
“My motto is l love what I do, and I do what I love. Making a difference for others is what I love to do.”
Learn more about South Piedmont’s Human Services program at spcc.edu/human-services.