Robin Butler

Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College

"What’s most important is finding ways to empower people. Inspiring them is great, but if you empower them, you give them the tools to navigate their situations on their own."

Robin Butler’s college and career story is just as much a love story – several of them, in fact. Her decision to become a nurse cannot be separated from her parents’ love for each other, her love for them, and her love for her students. Heck, it’s even there in the name of her school – Hazel’s Heart Healthcare Academy, located in Columbia, SC.

You named your school after your mom. Why?

My mom cared for people as if it were an art. She knew how to communicate. She knew how to talk to people and make them feel good. And that was especially true with how she cared for my dad.

They were high school sweethearts. But their later lives were not always easy. My dad was an Army veteran and was non-compliant with his diabetes regimen, so there were some challenges there. Together, my mom and I were able to help him, but in the process, he ended up getting his leg amputated. That was mentally and physically taxing for both of them because of how their lives had to change. But my mom never wavered in her care for him. That’s why I chose to name my school – which teaches healthcare education courses like CNA, CPR, and Med Tech – in her honor.

We lost her unexpectedly in 2019, and that was a very hard transition for our whole family. My dad didn’t take it well at all. His health declined further, and he became very discouraged.

In the midst of all of this personal hardship, what did your professional life look like?

I started out as a CNA back in 2000 and then worked for eight years as a pharmacy tech. Trying to support my mom and researching how to help my dad with his condition was what first sparked my interest in nursing.

I graduated from LPN school in 2011 and was working at a skilled nursing facility, which caters to individuals who need more advanced medical attention as well as those who need short-term, inpatient rehab care. There was a girl working there who graduated from OCtech, and that’s how I found out about that program.

Meanwhile, I told my dad about my plan to open Hazel’s Heart Healthcare Academy in honor of my mom, and he encouraged me every step of the way.

How do you start a school? That seems like a daunting task!

I had no idea myself! I started by doing research. I joined Facebook groups, asked questions, took classes on how to run a business.

I applied for a job at a private school that was like the one I wanted to open. When I went to the interview, I told the lady what my plans were and why I wanted the job. And she was eager to help. She embraced me and told me how to get started, and working there gave me the experience I needed for teaching. I worked there for over a year. The pay wasn’t good, and I drove 45 minutes to get there, but I knew what my end goal was, and I stuck with it.

I also kept a running list of what I needed for my school. I talked to my dad about all of it, and every week, we marked something off the list. For a year, we were just buying stuff and putting it away.

And then, an interesting chain of events…

Yes. First, I applied to OCtech’s flex program, which would move me from LPN to RN in one year.

Then, because I’d done the research and put in the work, I got the building for my school.

Ten days after that, my dad passed away.

His loss left me grief-stricken, and I was feeling discouraged about making two huge, possibly risky professional changes at one time.

But on the day of his funeral, I checked the mailbox, and I had an acceptance letter to the Nursing program. I took that as a sign that I was headed in the right direction. My dad knew what my plan was, and I wanted to make sure that I finished it for him, even though he was no longer here to see it.

And some of your experiences while in the Nursing program helped shape how you run your school.

One of our clinical sites through OCtech was the Samaritan House, the local shelter in Orangeburg. The executive director’s story was so heartwarming and inspiring – how he helps people transition from homeless to housed and employed. Despite the challenges his staff faced with some of the people there, they remained kind and motivational. They were great listeners.

When I started my school, I wanted to provide that kind of uplifting care along with a quality education. CNAs carry a lot of pressures from home to work, and I wanted to eliminate some of the barriers they have. So I partnered with a local church to provide household items, food, and school supplies for my students and their children that may help alleviate some of the stress they feel while taking classes, working, and caring for their home and family. It’s kind of like a care closet.

I also prioritize building lasting relationships with my students. One of them called me a couple of days ago to let me know she had gotten engaged. They call me when they get jobs. They call me just to talk. The rapport that I have with them – that’s the most important thing to me.

You seem to be a sort of everywoman – nurse, teacher, student, entrepreneur. What’s next for you?

I want to expand my school by adding a consultation service, so I want to get board certification in nursing professional development. One of the requirements for that is to go back to school, so I’m excited to be attending Claflin University in August to get my Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

I also want to be a continuing education provider for nursing, so I’m currently writing some of those units and will soon submit that paperwork for approval.

I just recently completed the City of Columbia’s FastTrac Growth Venture program, which helps local entrepreneurs develop the skills needed to start, manage, and grow a successful business. It taught me how to do a lot of the back-end work and gave me a lot of resources and connections.

But I feel like what’s most important is finding ways to empower people. Inspiring them is great, but if you empower them, you give them the tools to navigate their situations on their own. As a professional, that’s what gives me the greatest fulfillment.