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Health Profession Opportunity
Grant (HPOG) Success Stories
Jamel Walton is not your typical college student. I knew this within the first few seconds of meeting her. She possesses a certain awareness of herself that you don't find in most people; when you do, it's refreshing and unforgettable. Maybe it's the "Good afternoons!" I would hear from her as she walked past my office with an overstuffed backpack and an arm full of books. Maybe, it was the fact that I would look at the clock when I would see her walk by and realize that she had stayed later than all her classmates and even her instructor. This was a daily occurrence. Just from these simple interactions, I knew Jamel was a remarkable person, with a remarkable story.
Growing up in Harlem, the daughter of a single mother, Jamel saw firsthand the struggles her mother had making ends meet. Jamel also knew that as a young person, school did not keep her attention. "I actually had Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) as a child and was diagnosed only 6 months ago!" Ironically, Jamel feels that she doesn't have regrets for being diagnosed so late in life because it pushed her to work harder. "I wasn't given any accommodations and had to overcome the disorder myself to achieve the goals I planned on achieving."
Knowing that the school she was enrolled in wasn't working for her, Jamel decided to leave and attend a GED program instead. It was in this program that she learned about the opportunities afforded to her by entering the military. "I wanted to learn discipline and it was something I didn't think I could learn just being in the home environment I felt accustomed to." It was Jamel's uncle who also inspired her to make the decision to join the Marine Corps as he was formally a military man himself. The military brought Jamel opportunities that were beyond her wildest dreams. She spent three years stationed in Japan working to secure a military base as a guard. When she was given the chance to leave her base in Okinawa and see a Japanese Orphanage, her life's purpose became clear to her. "God's plan for me is to help others who can't help themselves, to be their voice."
Upon being discharged from the military, Jamel moved to Staten Island and worked as a Security Guard for The Office of Welfare. Her job was to keep peace in the unit, but she found the experience much deeper. She discussed how she would see people come into the office and be rejected welfare benefits. She felt for them because she at one time had been in their place. "I felt more like a counselor there because I had to calm people down, and help them to find answers to their problems. I had to give them hope." It was at this time that Jamel's uncle, the one who had inspired her to enter the military, passed away.
After the death of her uncle, Jamel, her mother, grandmother, niece and her nieces' two daughters decided to make a fresh start and move to Schenectady. She reached out to the local VA and discussed with them her desire to help out vulnerable populations. They connected her with SCCC's HPOG program where she enrolled in the Integrated Basic Education Skills Training Program (IBEST) Certified Nursing Assistant Program and Personal Care Aide class. "I thought I was just getting a brush up on healthcare skills, but it was much more enlightening than I ever expected!" She goes on to describe the analytical knowledge of healthcare she was exposed to in the IBEST class. "It went much deeper than a typical CNA class goes into the topics. Ms. Ruby and Mr. Bill were a great team and always kept my attention with challenging tasks and interesting information."
It was actually in the IBEST class where Jamel decided her next step. "I'm going to be a Social Worker!" Currently, Jamel is enrolled fulltime at SCCC where she plans to finish with an Associate's Degree in Human Services in the next year and continue on to SUNY Albany's Social Work Program. "I want to be a voice for the people." Jamel, you are certainly on your way.
The mantra, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” seems to be very fitting in the life of Christina Daly; although a few more “try’s” might need to be applied. The mother of five young children had always dreamed about working in the medical field, yet limitations always seemed to hold her back. Unemployed and while trying to land a job, a worker at the Schenectady County Job Training Agency (SJTA) shared information about the HPOG program with her and directed her to the Schenectady Community Action Program (SCAP); a partner with SCCC’s HPOG program. Christina knew this would be her way to make her dream a reality. Early on, however, obstacles began to come. During her career-readiness training both she and her children became ill and she had to leave the program to take care of her family. Determined, Ms. Daly returned and thanks to her case manager, David at SCAP, she was readmitted to the program and made it through the first step. Christina’s care for others and putting those in need before her is evident in her life and fittingly, upon being selected to enter the upcoming CNA training course, she gave up her position to Jill, a younger student who had a more imminent need of the spot. Finally, however, her time would come to enter CNA training herself.
The course started off great for Christina and she knew this was what she had wanted, yet life would throw her a difficult and painful curve ball. Unfortunately, the night before starting her second week in the program Christina and her children were forced to move out quickly, seek shelter away from her abusive husband and eventually press charges against him. Through the court appearances and meetings with social services, the county decided it was best for Christina and her children’s safety, for her to leave the program. Heartbroken and set back, her determination was unshakeable. “I knew someone had to take care of my family and no one else was going to do it besides me!” Through persistence and help from SCAP and HPOG staff along the way, Christina re-entered another CNA training cohort and continued her drive to bring stability to her family’s life. Working hard to get to her clinical rotations at Kingsway, a place she hoped to be her future employer, Christina excelled in patient care. Yet again though, the hurdles of life for Christina were unending. During one day at clinical rotations, her husband, in a drug relapse, tracked her down, calling Kingsway and again threatened her continuance in the program she loved. Nonetheless, Ms. Daly shared that she did not fear this instance would end her time in the program; she knew she would succeed. The only fear was that because she was visibly shaken and upset that this would make her appear to be unprofessional and unemployable.
She became focused. As a newly single mother, Christina’s motivation was driven by her love for her family and the support she received from her HPOG CNA instructor, Ms. Margie. Christina shared that Ms. Margie with tears in her own eyes, encouraged her. “I admire you so much; for what you do and what you’ve accomplished.” She would not quit now. With support like this all throughout the program, Christina successfully finished her clinical rotation, passed her exams and is now a licensed CNA. With all the impediments in her way; raising 5 children on her own, getting up at 4 a.m. at times before putting in a full day of classes, and issues with domestic violence, Christina said, “Before this year started I made a list of goals for myself and I told myself I was going to achieve them. And, I did!” Today, Christina is employed in a personal, home health care job and is seeking more employment and eventually hopes to continue on to get her nursing degree. She now knows, with a new found confidence and history of succeeding through difficulties, she is well on her way to providing all she had hoped for for her family. “HPOG is a wonderful program. I’m so thankful for it. And I know if I can do it anyone can!”
Before her participation in HPOG, Paula H. was a single mother, sleeping on a friend’s couch, and running late for everything. “I was always thinking, if my friend kicks me out, where do I go? Where do I take my daughter?”Now 24 years old, a Certified Nurse Aide working full time and living in her own apartment with her daughter and her boyfriend, she smiles when she talks about her job at The Eddy Village Green at Cohoes. “They don’t call us CNAs, I am referred to as a “shahbaz”, and we work on a self-managed team.”Her face lights up as she describes the innovative approach the nursing home takes to caring for their residents, and the unique story behind the title of shahbaz. “We are encouraged to engage more in the lives of the residents, much like family members. I love my job; it’s exactly what I want to be doing. I go to work with a smile on my face.”
While Paula has achieved her goal of being financially stable through a successful career in healthcare, the road to get there was anything but easy. “I found out about HPOG through a friend at the library. She told me there was this free training program and you could get your CNA. I was thinking I’d sign up and I’ll start right away.” But that didn’t happen for Paula, and the obstacles she had to overcome seemed insurmountable at first. “I didn’t realize the foot work I’d have to do to get into the program; I thought I’d be automatically in, so I didn’t take anything seriously, and I was late for everything.” Her tardiness earned her the nickname Pretty Late Paula by the staff at the Albany Community Action partnership (ACAP), and prevented her from obtaining a spot in the CNA training program. “I signed up for the CNA class in November, and I didn’t actually begin until May.” Paula made it a habit of showing up late for orientation, workshops, classes, etc. and making excuses for her tardiness. “It wasn’t until ACAP sat me down and said, ‘who are you to make excuses? That won’t work when you get a job, so we need to make a plan to get you here on time’ that I really got it.”
Paula worked with ACAP on getting childcare for her daughter so that she could commit to the class and be on time.; She started to realize that showing up and doing what you’ve set out to do was important for her and her daughter, and a major change started to happen. “People started to notice that I wasn’t only on time, but I was early. They finally just started calling me Pretty Paula!” After showing she was ready to be committed and focus on her goal, she began her CNA training class utilizing all of the supports she had and staying true to the idea of showing up on time and doing what is expected.“There were people there that actually wanted to help me, their job was to help me be successful, so I did my job and took that support and changed my life.”
Now she’s proud that she has her own place, and her daughter can see her go to work every day. “My daughter tells people her mommy is a nurse and that makes me feel really good. She sees me in my uniform and she sees me go to work and that shows her it’s important.Things are so different now.” As Paula recalls where she has come from and what she has been through, she is quick to point out what she has left to accomplish. “I got my learner’s permit through the help of ACAP and soon I will have my driver’s license. I love having my own place, and I definitely want to go back to school and become an RN. My entire family can see it, I’m just so happy now.”
Maurice Lindsey knows what he wants, he knows why he wants it, and he knows how to get there. “I wanted to get my CNA license to get my foot in the door in the healthcare field. But my goal is to continue on to become an LPN and then eventually an RN”. Maurice’s clarity on his professional goals stems from his experience growing up in a large family - 6 siblings in total. “I’ve always been involved in helping out with my siblings and taking care of them, and that has always been enjoyable for me. I knew I wanted to have that same feeling in my job.”
A recent graduate from Schenectady County Community College’s Health Profession Opportunity Grant program, Maurice has already found employment working as a CNA for a nursing home. Within 3 weeks of completing the training program and passing his state test, he had accomplished his first career goal of working as a CNA. And while Maurice is incredibly driven and headstrong (‘I don’t let anything get in my way’), he had much to overcome before he even began his class.
“I’ve always been a good student and done well in school, but I had some tough times in high school outside of the classroom and I had a lot to overcome.” As an African American, homosexual male who is HIV positive, Maurice certainly had a great deal of adversity he faced and encountered some stigmas he had to overcome. But prevailing through “the toughest year of his life,” including the loss of a sibling, meant learning a great deal about himself and about people in general. Maurice successfully graduated from high school, moved away from his family and took the next step toward building a career in healthcare.
“After I finished high school and moved here, I knew I wanted to begin my career by becoming a CNA, but I also knew I didn’t have the money to pay for a class. I was working at a local hospital as a Transportation Aide and I just looked around and said, ‘this is not what I came here for, I have to make a move’.” Maurice searched the internet for free CNA training programs in the area, assuming there probably weren’t any, and immediately came upon the website for Albany Community Action Program (otherwise known as ACAP). ACAP, a community organization that specializes in providing various social services to their community members to empower people to achieve economic self-sufficiency and an improved quality of life, has partnered with Schenectady County Community College to provide outreach, recruitment, case management and employment services to HPOG students. Maurice was ecstatic to read that ACAP was recruiting for a high quality CNA program in his community that was entirely free. “I almost didn’t make it in! I showed up late to my first day of orientation, but they could see I was out of breath from running to make it on time, and I really wanted a shot at this opportunity, so they let me stay.”
Maurice was never late again, and through intense workshops, high quality and caring instructors, and extremely supportive employment specialists, Maurice took full advantage of the wrap-around services the program had to offer. “My class was like a family; we grew to be very close and they were very accepting of who I am. We still keep in touch and get together every month for dinner to see how everyone is doing. People bring their families, it’s great.”
To subsidize the standard curriculum, Maurice offered to his instructor an opportunity to speak with his classmates about his personal experiences growing up HIV positive and how that relates to the healthcare path they’ve chosen. The experience was unique for both Maurice and his classmates, and prompted some great discussions on the role of a patient and the role of a healthcare provider.
Maurice attributes much of his success in the class to his passionate instructor (“you can tell she loves what she does and she never let us give up”), his supportive classmates (“you spend so much time together, you really get to know and love each other like a family”), and the rigorous curriculum and program (“it’s really tough and you have to stay focused- during testing I just imagined that our proctor was our instructor and I had all the confidence in the world because she believed in us, so I knew I could do it”).
His immediate attainment of the exact kind of job he was looking for was made entirely possible by his employment specialist and supportive team at ACAP. “This program was like a blessing to me- it’s amazing that you guys help people to the extent that you do. I had support everywhere I turned. ACAP stayed with me the entire time, helped me make an amazing resume and before I even graduated I had interviews set up.”
Now that he’s a working CNA and doing what he loves, Maurice has given notice to his job as a Transportation Aide. “I love my job and I love my residents. When I go home at the end of the day, I know I mattered. He wears a very large tattoo on his back with one simple, but powerful, word- integrity. “I make sure I follow through on my responsibilities in a timely manner because people are counting on you, and that’s a great feeling. The program helped me get that.”
See scenes from our January 28, 2014 HPOG graduation on our