Donated photo. Pictured is Jessica McElroy, 2019 Haywood Community College Criminal Justice graduate. She is a victim advocate for the local chapter of REACH, a shelter for victims of domestic violence.

Just like every job, Jessica McElroy’s has its ups and downs. The 2019 Haywood Community College Criminal Justice graduate is a victim advocate for the local chapter of REACH, a shelter for victims of domestic violence.

While she loves getting help to those in the community who are affected by something they can’t control, McElroy says one of the hardest parts is hearing their stories. “I love giving them support however I can,” she explains. “But it is hard to hear what they have gone through and it’s also hard when they decide to go back to their abusers.”

Working as a lead teacher in an early childhood center, McElroy decided to follow her heart and return to the classroom to work on the social work side of criminal justice. Turns out that most of HCC’s criminal justice classes were available online, enabling her to hold down a full-time job while going to school full-time.

As a victim advocate, McElroy helps victims through the process of getting their lives back together after experiencing domestic violence. She helps them learn the criminal justice system and the steps that they need to take to convict their abusers. McElroy also guides them to available resources such as lodging and other services to become self-sufficient, so they do not feel they have to go back to an abusive relationship. She coordinates with other REACH shelters in Western North Carolina when a victim has special circumstances that require relocation to another county.

McElroy attended HCC before taking criminal justice to pursue a High School Equivalency. She dropped out of high school near the end of the eleventh grade but realized that a high school credential would make life much easier for her.

“Looking back, I don’t regret dropping out of high school,” McElroy explains. “It led me to where I am today.”

Making a difference in the lives of many in her community, McElroy was recently awarded the Student Excellence in Service Award at HCC for demonstrating academic excellence along with service to the community.

Fall registration is underway now. For more information about the Criminal Justice program or registration, visit or contact HCC at or 828-627-2821.