You don’t have to go directly to college



David & Julie Sacra Photo by

David and Julie Sacra of rural Harrisonburg recognize they march a bit offbeat as they’ve encouraged their daughters to take a year off before going to college to “just b-r-e-a-t-h-e” a little—and Julie says “breathe” slowly, allowing herself to exhale as well.

“For many, there’s only one path, one box,” Julie points out, and that is heading straight to college even when you have no earthly idea why or what kind of job or career you’d like to pursue.

And it’s perfectly fine with the Sacras if their four daughters don’t end up going to college at all, as long as they’re growing in the Lord and discovering and using their God-given gifts. “You don’t need a college education for many jobs,” reminds David, with Julie adding, “of course I want my doctor to have a degree.”

The three older daughters, Kate, 24, Jenny, 22, and Emily, 19, are each currently in challenging and fulfilling jobs they love, without having gone to college at all. Their youngest daughter, Joelle, 10, is in fourth grade. The girls have had a combination of schooling through Blue Ridge Christian School in Bridgewater, Eastern Mennonite School, and several years of homeschooling by their mother.

“Neither of the older two girls had a really clear idea of what they wanted to do. They both enjoyed many things especially at EMS: participating in music, volleyball, drama,” recalled their mother.

“We had told them we’d put them through EMS but they would have to pay for college on their own as we felt that they would take it more seriously if they were responsible for their own debt,” noted David. “There’s a lot of peer pressure to go straight to college—when all of your friends are doing so, and they talk about their plans.”

David has always been the primary breadwinner in this family, first working 22 years for Ric Peters at Shenandoah Paint and Decorating Center, first on Carlton Street and then at its present location on Neff Avenue in Harrisonburg. Eventually David decided to launch out on his own, now doing contract painting in homes and businesses since 2010. Julie supplemented the family income at times working from home: for a while, maintaining a custom drapery treatment “workroom” where interior decorators would ship fabric which she sewed to their specifications, and also doing some bookkeeping for small businesses.

Their oldest daughter, Kate, is currently living and working in Tampa, Fla., employed by Chick-fil-A in marketing research and development, focusing on opening up new restaurants. Kate had worked through high school and summers for local businesses such as Lee & Associates, Bridal Impressions, and creating promotional and design materials for Aletheia Church. Eventually she was hired to work in marketing at Chick-fil-A at the Harrisonburg East Market street location, owned by friends Ashley and Greg Bellamy who had seen her gifts being used at Aletheia. “It’s a job that fits the particular gifts and abilities that the Lord gave her,” notes David, adding, “Sometimes the Lord provides through the people that you know.”

Kate is now a marketing director for a Chick-fil-A in Tampa, as well as working for the corporation as a Regional Marketing Director (RMD). As a RMD she is thrilled to be able to travel and help in the creative way Chick-fil-A launches new stores. “She has been flown to places such as Los Angeles, Texas, and Chicago and truly loves her job,” Julie illustrates.

Julie points out that Kate “could have went through four years of school in marketing and be $60,000-80,000 in debt, and still not really know what she now knows through three years of working in her job.”

The Sacras believe that more than a specific degree, kids need attitudes where they are willing to learn and have a good work ethic, and they will be ready to do a variety of jobs successfully.

Emily, Kate, Jenny (Carrier) and Joelle Sacra Photo by

Jenny began waitressing at Cracker Barrel in Harrisonburg in her “year off” where managers soon noticed her “gifts and abilities in human relations,” according to her mother. As a “people person,” Jenny did very well in waitressing and began training other employees, and then was asked to be the employee training coordinator for the district—the youngest ever to hold that spot. She was flown to company headquarters in Tennessee for training and has returned there for updates in employee retention. One older employee was especially grateful for the way Jenny worked with her to overcome nervousness about working with a computer, with no previous experience on computers.

Jenny was married last year to Thomas Carrier and her younger sister, Emily, was thrilled to be able to photograph the wedding: not as a sister, but an entrepreneur running her own photography business at the age of 18. Through high school she had apprenticed with other photographers at weddings so that “when I started, I wouldn’t have to ‘practice’ on anyone’s wedding,” Emily explained. Emily also talked another wedding photographer into helping shoot that wedding so she would be able to also participate as a bridesmaid—and stay sane, which she wrote about on her blog,

Julie recalled how Emily started her interest in photography with a “really dinky camera and always enjoyed it. She began teaching herself all about photography when she was just 12 and 13. She could see things we couldn’t see—and could take photos most other people wouldn’t take.”

Emily added, “I started my blog when I was 11, including photography and my readership grew beyond just local people. This has given me contacts all over the world in photography.” She said she’s been hired for her first “destination” wedding in Florida this year (where the couple lives) and has shot weddings in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia—especially Charlottesville where increasingly couples head for beautiful, scenic wedding venues.

The Sacra family on vacation on Eastern Shore, Va.: From left to right, Thomas Carrier, married to Jenny; Kate, Julie, Joelle, David and Emily.
Photo by

Emily was also happy to take the cover shots for this issue of Valley Living, and all of the photos on these pages. Her father points out that she did not go into debt as she invested in her high quality equipment: “She got up to get to work by 5 a.m. at Chick-fil-A and saved up enough money” to pay cash for the camera, her Macbook Pro, and more.

“I knew I wanted to pay cash; it is easy for people in this industry to go in the hole because it takes a lot of money to get started,” Emily added. She hopes to work her way up to an average of 30 weddings a year, and at this point also shoots senior portraits, engagement photos and recently did a “cake smash” photography session for a one-year-old’s first birthday.

Growing up, the girls did not receive an allowance, partially because that was the way David and Julie were raised, but also because they believe everyone can be expected to complete family chores without getting paid. Emily added, “I always knew that if I really really needed something, my parents would buy it for me.”

Julie said that they all began learning to do their own laundry by the time they were four or five: “I drew colored lines on the floor in the basement and they knew how to sort things into whites, colors, and towels. They seemed to enjoy doing the laundry.”

David and Julie are members of Greenmount Church of the Brethren north of Harrisonburg and their faith is very important to them. David summarizes their slightly offbeat approach in helping launch their children into adulthood as: “I don’t care about where they work and what money they earn; we just want them walking in God’s ways.”

MELODIE DAVIS, editor of Living, is the mother of three young adult daugthers, and lives wih her husband near Harrisonburg, Va. She also blogs at

Emily’s experience photographing her sister’s wedding while ALSO being a bridesmaid is worth reading on her blog, “How I photographed my sister’s wedding,”


About Author

Leave A Reply