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Painting curb numbers path to nursing degree
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Painting a house number on the curbing in the 800 block of Baker Driver in Ripon is one way to earn money toward a nursing degree for Keely Felan who already has two years under her belt at Modesto Junior College. - photo by GLENN KAHL

RIPON —  Work ethic, ingenuity and idealism were all alive and well in a young woman kneeling in a Ripon street Thursday.

It was mid-afternoon on New Year’s Day as my wife and I were taking a stroll through our neighborhood when a young woman caught my eye — she was painting house numbers on a curbing.

Nearly an hour later as we neared our home there she was again, but further down the street, on her knees with a stencil and a can of black paint.

There was an obvious work ethic by an energetic young woman who was going the extra mile to make her life better. 

She sorely wants a four year college degree so she can “make a difference” for her maternal family.

In a day of economic down turn,  business closings and financial frustrations in family circles,  it is difficult to find a job to make ends meet, let alone save for college.  

She had worked for a big box electronics business and a clothing store in and around the Modesto mall.   Those jobs have mostly dried up having become few and far between today.

Keely Felan graduated high school eight years ago and went on to Modesto Junior College to take her general education classes not knowing exactly what she wanted to do with her life — what vocation she should be focusing on.

That is, until she was forced to spend a couple months in the hospital this past year with a serious health problem, coming face to face with compassionate nurses and some who were not so caring, she said.  She learned a lot about fear and about medicine from a patient’s perspective and it wasn’t all good, she added.

The young painter was quick to tell me that she now knows she wants to be an RN — a compassionate and caring practitioner — a goal that is going to take much of her own  money in addition to state grants.  And, with California in the middle of its own budget crisis, grant funding is not moving toward students who need it for their educations.

Keely started painting curbs three months ago — first to get Christmas money — and then to save toward her future education at Stanislaus State University.  She has a close friend in nursing who is working at a hospital in San Jose saying that she was very supportive in helping her make the decision.

Keely also noted that her family has been in a continuing financial crisis and she feels that she can make a difference when she completes her degree — a difference by helping her mom and her brothers.

Previous curb painter cheated residents

She’s charging $10 for painting curb numbers. She has found some resistance because a painter who went before her in Ripon took money and never finished his jobs.  She said he was making $150 a day and left angry Riponites in his wake.

One elderly man told her he wouldn’t have his curb painted because he had already paid someone else who came before her and never completed the work.  She responded that she would do it for nothing because of what apparently had happened. She didn’t want him to think badly of her, too.

When she was done and the paint was dry, he complimented her on the finished product and handed her a  $10 bill.

“You meet some really nice people,” she said.  “One family invited me in and offered me breakfast.”

That was Bob Martin’s family.  She was greeted at the door by a friendly but cautious Andrea Martin, a 9-year-old student at Weston Elementary School.

Martin, a civil engineer,  said his daughter has always been told to be cautious in opening the door when strangers knock — and that she did.  But it wasn’t long before the young stranger had won the hearts of the family.  So much in fact that “mom” offered to call their neighborhood friends and tell them she was coming.

People are generous to her

She remembers one curbing she painted the day after Thanksgiving where the homeowner gave her a plate loaded up with leftovers from his holiday dinner.  She said she was in awe by his generosity.

Keely said it’s hard to knock on doors and interrupt families asking to paint their curb numbers.  “I get a lot of ‘No’s’ — on a good day I will make $30 to $40,” she said.  When she finds a family who obviously can’t afford it, she says she often charges less.

She considers herself to be a nice person saying it’s much easier for someone to say no to me than to say no to someone who is super aggressive.

The downside is that being something of a perfectionist she gets black paint on her fingers and on her finger nails. 

She is often perceived as an artist but says she doesn’t wear gloves because she can’t be as exacting with the placement of the digits when her fingers are covered.

She said she appreciates how the Ripon community has welcomed her as a stranger and would like to give 10 per cent of her earnings back to Inter-Faith Ministries for their food and clothing closet.