His teachers in grammar school and high school didn’t think James Crouse would amount to much after graduation. He wasn’t so sure about himself either, if truth be told.
Crouse, who grew up – and still lives in the Phillipsburg area – acknowledges that he “had serious problems” with drugs and alcohol from the age of 12 to 25. He didn’t do well in school. His prospects for a quality job weren’t very good and in the ensuing years his credit rating went kaput.
“I never saw any potential in myself,” admitted Crouse, now 34 and a second semester freshman at Warren County Community College. “I never learned to learn.”
Over time, Crouse “cleaned up” and got a pretty good job with a pool company, starting as a service repairman and then, eventually, a salesman.
“I loved that job,” he said. “I really did. My boss was great and as a salesman I loved talking to people. I do have a gift of gab.”
But as time went on, the father of two realized that it wasn’t the long-term plan for him.
“It was seasonal work, so it wasn’t year-round,” he said. “I flat out decided that it wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I have a family and I’m engaged. I needed something more secure.”
So he left the pool business in the winter of 2014-15 and soon after made the decision to look into college. Crouse, a social sciences major, decided he wanted to draw on his own past experiences with addiction to ultimately earn his master’s degree and become a substance abuse counselor. Getting an associate’s degree became his first goal.
“I talked to the people here (at WCCC) and they were real helpful,” he said. “But I really didn’t know what to expect or if I could even do it.”
Crouse took one summer course, then two others in the fall, to “test the waters,” and “I did well. It really boosted my esteem.”
“Until my first grades were posted I wasn’t sure it would work for me. I am confident now,” said Crouse, who works part-time in the college library. “I’ve turned a gamble into a real possibility. For the first time in my life I’ve had academic achievement. At this stage in my life, I know what I have to do and am putting everything in place.”
Once he got into the flow of things, it seemed to come naturally to him.
“I’ve always adapted pretty well so it turned out the transition was pretty smooth,” Crouse said. “If I needed help I wasn’t afraid to ask.”
While many at WCCC helped him along the way, Crouse pointed to Professor Karen Hillyer and Librarian Lisa Stoll as being two key supporters.
Stoll says Crouse’s enthusiasm benefits not only his own studies, but those around him.
“One of the aspects about Jim that sticks out in my mind is that he is always enthusiastic and willing to encourage other students,” she said. “He approaches his own learning openly, ready to jump into his assignments with vigor. Generally, Jim has a charismatic and joyful presence about him that spreads to others around him.”
And now, Crouse’s future is looking quite bright. He is on a career path at WCCC, and at home, he’s looking forward to marrying his girlfriend, Julie, and making his children proud.
“James is someone who is focused on his family. He wants them to be proud of him; he is doing everything he can to make sure that that happens including doing the best he can at college. I admire his dedication and resilience,” said Hillyer, Associate Professor of Communications.
Indeed, his two kids, 12-year-old, Alex, and 4-year-old, Emma, have a lot to be proud of with their dad. And so does the WCCC community.