Kasey Gamble grew up in a state with a small union presence, but she has seen throughout her life the difference organized labor can make on a family’s quality of living.

Kasey Gamble, daughter of Charlotte, N.C., Local 962 retiree Donald Gamble. She recently graduated from the University of North Carolina with a bachelor’s degree in nursing, using scholarship money from the Union Plus program in the process.

Her father, Donald, worked as a mechanic and certified welder for Duke Energy and was a 27-year member of Charlotte, N.C., Local 962 before retiring.

After Kasey graduated from high school – where she was a member of the National Honor Society – in 2016, she received $1,000 in aid from the Union Plus scholarship program and used it to help pay for her freshman year at the University of North Carolina.

Four years later, Kasey graduated with highest distinction with a bachelor’s degree in nursing from UNC, another success story for the union-backed program, which is open to all union families, including IBEW members.

While $1,000 may not seem like a huge amount with rising tuition costs at public and private universities, Gamble noted every little bit of money helped. She graduated with no debt and will begin a job at the Vivant Medical Center in Greenville, N.C., this summer. The center is the teaching hospital for East Carolina University.

“That freshman year was the most important year for me,” added Gamble, who is the first person in her family to graduate from college with a 4-year degree. “You have to know that you can do it and be successful. It allowed me to get my foot in the door and see what I can do after that.”

According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 2.3 percent of North Carolina’s hourly workers belong to a union, the second-lowest rate of any state in the country.

Gamble might serve as a good spokesperson for any group trying to raise that average. She remembers how Local 962 helped her father retain his job when he was falsely accused during a disciplinary procedure and how much that meant to the Gamble family.

She will not be a union member in her job at Vivant because there are virtually no union jobs available in nursing in North Carolina, but she’s been impressed by how organized labor has worked to assist all front-line medical workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’ve seen how unions are helping doctors and other medical professionals get [personal protective equipment] and what they need,” she said.  “Not just the IBEW, but I appreciate what all unions are doing.”

Of course, she will soon be one of those front-line workers. Kasey said she will be working with patients in the hospital’s medical transitional unit. They are well enough not to be in intensive care but have not progressed to where they can be in a regular hospital room.

“It’s exciting because I am helping out right after graduation, but it’s scary because there is so much that is unknown and health care is changing right before my eyes,” she said.

Union Plus is a brand of Union Privilege, which has worked since 1986 to aid union members in finding quality services and products. It is backed by the AFL-CIO. Union Plus has programs that offer member savings on everyday products from wireless phones to credit cards. It also has a program that provides assistance to union members going through financial hardship, including difficulties caused by the pandemic.

Applications for 2021 scholarships will be available in mid-June and are open to children and dependents of all union members, including the IBEW.

Local 962 represents Duke Energy workers throughout North Carolina. Kasey Gamble grew up in Randleman, a small, rural town south of Greensboro.