FARMINGTON – Jean Mason decided she wanted to go to college after raising her three sons, now ages 5, 7 and 8, to school age.

She just didn’t know how to do it.

But the 33-year-old from Livermore Falls did know where she could get help.

Mason had kept in touch with Ray Therrien, an educator she met while attending Mt. Blue High School. He guided her through a series of traumatic events during high school, when Mason struggled with the suicide of a close friend and other problems.

They developed a student-mentor friendship that continued after graduation, with Therrien always pushing Mason to seek a higher education despite life’s many challenges.

When the time was finally right for Mason to give college a try earlier this year, Therrien helped her enroll in the 14-week college transitions course at the Franklin County Adult Education program in Farmington.

Mason completed the course and planned her next step after Therrien, director of the program, told her about a unique network that gives people in rural Franklin County communities more options to get a higher education.

The Franklin County Community College Network works with educators, public school districts, colleges and businesses in the community, with a goal of helping people get college degrees and other job training.

The adult education center is among the partner groups, and this link gave Mason a defined path to follow toward reaching her goal of working in early childhood education, she said.

She started classes this fall at Central Maine Community College in Auburn and plans to get an associate degree in two years. She wants a career working in special education with children younger than age 5, something she couldn’t have accomplished without help from Therrien and the network.

“Going back to school after being out for a long time is very difficult, and without support from the network and the adult education center, I don’t think it would have happened for me,” she said.

Mason picked her career because she wants to help others by sharing her personal experiences, having raised two autistic children, she said.

Getting a degree will also make a big difference for her family, she said. They have been relying on the income of her husband, who is a self-employed logger.

Therrien described the center and network as sharing a goal of being “barrier busters,” tearing down the obstacles standing between people and a higher education.

The network, founded in 2005, has offered hundreds of community college courses at sites across Franklin County, where affiliated educational institutions host the classes.

There have also been targeted job-training classes through the network, which has researched what skills employees need to get hired by growing businesses.