Accountant discovers that working at TJJD provides a path to college loan forgiveness
By Barbara Kessler, TJJD Communications
Ashley Neamtz was determined to get her business degree and after that, get out from under the compounding debt that her hard-earned college education had produced.
She found the answer in public service employment with the state of Texas. She worked first at the Department of Transportation and then joined TJJD, where she’s the Lead General Ledger Accountant.
Her state service qualified her for the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Under that program, if she worked 10 years for the state and made payments on her loans based on her income level, she could have the remaining loan balance forgiven.
“I was skeptical,” she said of the program, which required her to consolidate several loans that she’d accrued over the seven years she went to college. “I thought, they’re going to find some excuse that it (her decade of payments) doesn’t count.”
That’s not what happened, though let’s back up to the beginning.
Life events meant that Neamtz’ college didn’t happen in one neat swoop of four years, nor did anyone help her finance it. When she graduated from high school there was no college nest egg ready. Her family did not have the means for that.
Each year, Neamtz, then Ashley Cutright, took out loans to cover college costs, first at Arkansas Tech University in her hometown, and later in Texas. She had to stop and start with her classes, while married to a military man and raising their first child, and it was seven years before she finished her bachelor’s in Business Administration at Texas A&M Central Texas in Killeen.
After she graduated in 2011, she realized that her patchwork of loans was growing alarmingly, because of compounding interest and despite her regular payments. She remembers paying $500 one month and noticing that $499 was going toward interest.
Another time, she calculated it would take her about 50 years to pay off the growing note, which at the end of 10 years was about 25 percent more than the amount of the loans she had taken out, despite those regular payments.
She had heard stories and read news articles about snafus with the government’s loan forgiveness programs. These periodically highlighted horror tales of people who thought they’d fulfilled their 10 years of charitable or government work but were told that a technicality prevented the forgiveness.
Still, that seemed like the only way out from under a debt that had grown to just over $100,000.
She signed up for the “Income Driven Payment” plan, paid faithfully the prescribed amounts – which came to a few thousand each year based on her earnings -- and watched as the 10-year mark approached.
By then, she’d advanced to a lead position at TJJD, had two sons, ages 16 and 7, and was newly married and expecting a child with her second husband.
With her oldest son approaching college age and their family about to outgrow their three-bedroom home in Georgetown, it seemed like a good time for that college debt to get retired.
And then it happened.
On a Friday night in September, she got an email that noted “there was a change to your loan.”
“So I looked at the paperwork and my balances were zero!” Neamtz said.
“I was immediately on the phone with my husband. He was traveling for work. He was like, ‘Are you serious?’ We were both having a little freak out. That’s a big weight to loom over you for so long.”
The party they’d talked about to celebrate would have to wait, but the mental relief washed over them.
“I feel like a thousand times better, just simple decisions are going to be a lot easier. I’m about to have three kids and I have a 3-bedroom house,” she said, noting that applying for mortgages or car loans is difficult when there’s a big college debt on the books.
“Those loans hold you back from just everyday life,” Neamtz said.
She’s also relieved that the household will be on solid financial footing as her eldest son considers college.
“I was worried about well how I am going to pay my loans and his,” she said. “I’m also not going to let them (her boys) make the same mistake I did. My parents were not financially literate. And I didn’t understand compounding interest. because I didn’t borrow $103,000, that’s just what it ended up being.”
Here's More Information about How to Qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness
To qualify for PSLF, you must:
- be employed by a U.S. federal, state, local, or tribal government or not-for-profit organization(federal service includes U.S. military service);
- work full-time for that agency or organization;
- have Direct Loans (or consolidate other federal student loans into a Direct Loan);
- repay your loans under an income-driven repayment plan*; and
- make 120 qualifying payments.
Steps to get started:
- Find out if your Employer Qualifies – TJJD does!
- Certify your employment each year
- Apply for forgiveness once you’ve met the requirements (see above)
There’s a help tool about the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (You may want to get a refreshment and sit down before reading, because this help tool is, ahem, deeply helpful and could make your head spin. But you will get the information you need.)
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness programs are offering some perks, which expire Oct. 31, 2022. Find out more about these, which as this PSLF Waiver program -- so you can apply before the deadline, if you qualify!
Alaska invited TJJD clinicians to share expertise working with capital offenders
TJJD's Business Director leaves the agency with fond memories
By Barbara Kessler, TJJD Communications
Many of our TJJD staffers have wonderful career success stories to tell. They worked for many years at the agency and retired confident that they made a big difference in the lives of countless young people.
These folks worked up close in direct care or in classrooms or as support staff. They kept a steady course and a sunny outlook. They stretched to learn new things. They stayed cool through countless changes. They didn’t just teach the youth resilience and commitment, they modeled it.
Today we want to highlight just one of these employees, Sheree’ Case.
Case started as a parttime file clerk at Gainesville State School more than 25 years ago and retired at the end of August as director of Business Operations, proud of her accomplishments at TJJD and still a tad amazed at the upward course of her career.
“I loved my accounting job – I’ve loved every job I’ve had (here). I love TJJD and what it stands for. Even in the worst of times, I was proud to say I worked at TJJD,” she said. (See what we mean? Sunny outlook.)
Case’s career at TJJD/TYC was not a part of any grand life plan. She had enjoyed work as a flight attendant, but after having two children, she sought a job closer to home. She was working parttime at a North Texas antique mall, where then-Gainesville State School Supt. Jerry Day had a booth. He suggested that the Texas Youth Commission’s state school might provide a good job.
She started soon afterward, in Feb. 1997, as a temporary parttime file clerk at the Gainesville campus. She moved to permanent parttime, then to fulltime and then to a new position as the Release Secretary (handling paperwork for released students).
Case clearly impressed her supervisors, because soon she was the Student Trust Fund Administrator, handling accounts for the 400 or so youth on campus at that time.
Just a few years in, the Halina, Oklahoma native became an Accounting Supervisor, then the Purchaser and finally, the Facility Business Coordinator, overseeing the Gainesville campus and three halfway houses in the D/FW area.
She’d found not just a job close to home, but a challenging, satisfying career that suited her.
“I despise math. But I love crunching the numbers. Making it all fit,” she said. “I liked putting the puzzle pieces together.”
Another piece that got put together was Sheree’ meeting Truman Case, a longtime Gainesville State School employee who had worked in risk management and then became the supervisor of the Maintenance Department.
Sheree’ and Truman got married in 2004, a second marriage for each. Relatives and their “work family” turned out for the event.
“They’re not coworkers, they’re family,” Case said. “That camaraderie is what gets you through the difficult times. You’re not in it by yourself.”
Truman helped raise her son and daughter and together, they embraced his grown children, and along the way, welcoming grandchildren. Today, Sheree’ has three grandkids and three great-grandkids (the greats from Truman’s side of their blended family).
Sadly, she lost Truman in 2016, just shy of their 12th anniversary. The local church pews once again filled with work family, offering their love and support.
By then, Case had added to her work credentials by becoming a Certified Texas Procurement Manager (CTPM) in 2012, a new level for purchasers with the state of Texas.
“I never pass up an opportunity to learn something, and I was very fortunate all of my supervisors afforded me the opportunity. If I didn’t’ come to them, they’d come to me and say, are you interested.”
“Throughout her tenure with TJJD, Sheree has made countless contributions to the agency and the population we serve,” said Emily Anderson, Chief Financial & Operating Officer for Fiscal Affairs and Budget. “She almost always had a solution to any issue that came up and if she didn’t, well the ‘sweet tea’ was that she would know who to ask for help with a solution.”
In April 2019, Anderson promoted Case to Director of Business Operations for TJJD. Case spent the next years overseeing all business matters for the campuses across Texas, and she continued to thrive.
“Probably my greatest accomplishment at TJJD was when I became the Business Coordinator for Gainesville. That’s when I felt that all the hard work had paid off. I was able to effect change and put policies into place that helped us move forward as an agency,” Case said. “And when Emily asked me to come to Central Office, I really felt I had done something right.”
Case’s knowledge of the agency and her connection with the staff is simply irreplaceable, Anderson said. “While we are excited for her and her new adventure, I know the agency will not quite be the same without her.”
Sheree’s next chapter will kick off far from Gainesville’s quiet campus. This fall she will take an extended trip to Paris. She plans to discover the sights, the cuisine and “who Sheree’ is without TJJD,” she said with a laugh.
Back home in Whitesboro, she will be ready for the grandkids, the holidays and “whatever life has in store.”
San Antonio quilting group spreads the love, giving several handcrafted quilts to youth at Ayres Halfway House
By Barbara Kessler, TJJD Communications
When service-minded people collaborate, it’s amazing what gets stitched together.
In this case, it was stacks of beautiful quilts.
Their makers recently delivered these mood-brightening, toe-warming lovingly crafted blankets to Ayres Halfway House, where they donated them to the youth so they could use a selected quilt while at Ayres and later take it home.
The receiving youth were so happy, they blanketed the delivering quilter, Debbie DeCamp, with thanks. And despite it being nearly 100 degrees that day, many of the youth wrapped themselves in the quilts, demonstrating their excitement.
“I’ve worked in a lot of volunteer positions over the years and had some pretty rewarding moments . . . but none like I had this morning! These young men were so appreciative, their excitement was contagious,” she told her fellow quilters later.
“I cannot describe the look in their eyes when they shook my hand made direct eye contact and told me how much they appreciate what we have done.”
Fittingly, the quilting volunteers who had assembled to produce these quilts for Ayres House, in San Antonio, had named their group, “Stitching for the Journey.” They came up with that name to highlight their support for the Ayres’ teens as they journey toward a better life.
About 25 quilters have signed up to be a part of the group, with about five actively pitching to join the founders in making the quilts, DeCamp said.
DeCamp, a longtime volunteer for underprivileged communities, and Rebecca Rindahl, a San Antonio educator, selected the halfway house to receive the craftwork, because they saw the need.
DeCamp said she’d been working with a group that makes quilts for children and adults in hospitals, but felt that there were more than enough quilts going to these destinations.
“We had been looking for an organization to make quilts for that nobody else was serving,” she said.
They found it when Rindahl talked to an acquaintance who worked at TJJD. That woman put her in touch with Patty Garza, the volunteer coordinator for Ayres house.
The three got together and discussed how quilts would be such a perfect gift for the youth at Ayres, providing them not only physical comfort during their stay, but something to take home and keep.
Knowing the time and effort it takes to produce these quilts would be “a beautiful reminder of emotional comfort that people really do care,” Garza said.
Each quilt can take 20 to 50 hours or more to make and has a value of $300-$500, she said.
After their discussion, Rindahl and DeCamp reached out to fellow quilters for volunteers and organized “Stitching for the Journey.”
DeCamp encouraged her quilting volunteers by reminding them how much their work would mean to the young recipients. “As you piece your quilts remember each stitch is an encouragement for these young men,” she told them.
After weeks of piecing together these handcrafted textiles, the group delivered 14 quilts to the youth at Ayres on Sept. 1.
“The boys were in awe and excited to select the quilt of their choice and make their beds with this symbol of care and love,” Garza said.
“This was our way of reaching out and saying, ‘you are loved,’” DeCamp said.
Photos: Top right, Patty Garza and Debbie DeCamp with youth receiving blankets at Ayres House. Youth in a shared room with the newly received bright quilts on the beds.
Glen Knipstein honored for 35 years of service to state of Texas
By Barbara Kessler, TJJD Communications
Glen Knipstein is having a winning month.
Last weekend, a cousin invited him to the UT game against UT-San Antonio. The weather was sunny, the crowd roared, and the Longhorns won. Light up the tower!
It was a rust orange moment to savor for the home crowd and Knipstein, who got both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at UT-Austin.
A few days before that, Knipstein enjoyed another star moment when he picked up his certificate marking 35 years as an employee of the state of Texas.
He served the first 29 years at the Texas Department of Transportation, where he retired as Director of Accounting. The next six years came after he launched a second career in 2016 at TJJD, where he’s now the Director of Fiscal Affairs and Budget.
“The work that TJJD does is very important and helps TJJD youth increase their chances of success in life. So, I feel very lucky and happy to be working with the great professionals at TJJD, and I plan to work another year or two before I retire,” Knipstein said.
He is grateful to Emily Anderson, TJJD’s Deputy Executive Director – Finance and Operations, for hiring and promoting him.
“I have worked with Glen for almost 18 years,” said Anderson, “and he is one of the most knowledgeable government accountants I have ever worked with. He has been instrumental to the continued success of TJJDs Finance Division.” Before TJJD, Anderson and Knipstein previously worked together at Texas DOT.
Knipstein acknowledges that the people in his department do not work directly with the youth. However, the finance department provides important support.
“We work to make sure the bills get paid,” he said. “My area does all the payroll payments – making sure they (employees) get their paycheck so those working at facilities can focus on the youth and their own families.”
Knipstein knows how important it is to have time for family. His break in state service came when he left DOT earlier than he’d planned to take care of his aging father. It was something he’s glad he did.
After his father’s passing, he was gratified to put his expertise back to work for TJJD. He started as a temporary worker, helping with a specialized annual finance report, but then applied and was selected for fulltime work commensurate with his experience.
In addition to following his alma mater’s sports teams, Knipstein enjoys coin collecting in his spare time. He has fond memories of his boyhood when he, his sister and their father would comb through bags of pennies from the bank to see which ones had “wheat ears” – two shafts of wheat embossed on the back -- and rare mint markings from the early 20th Century.
The pennies, he said, are not very valuable, but it was fun to find those that were not in great circulation.
He’s also proud to have served in the Army Reserves from 1983 to 1998. Knipstein was called to active duty during the first Gulf War and served as a Captain in the U.S. Army Finance Corp at Fort Hood.
He enjoys work at TJJD because “everybody works together and supports each other. They’ve definitely contributed to my success.”