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Even The Strongest Among Us Can Sometimes Use A Hand

April 15, 2007
By SUSAN CAMPBELL, Courant Staff Writer

Julietta Alphonse-Brown, like so many other certified nursing assistants, works the hands-on end of the medical profession. She does the heavy lifting, the wiping up and other caring acts for the sick.

Slowly, her profession is starting to acknowledge the physical toll the job takes, and it relies more on machines to lift patients.

But change is coming slowly, and Alphonse-Brown has already been a nursing assistant for eight years. The job, with its flexible hours, has been good to her, but she wants to climb the ladder. She's studying at Prince Tech in Hartford to be a licensed practical nurse, and while she pursues that certificate, her schedule would fell a lesser person.

She's up before dawn to straighten her Hartford home and make lunches for her two children, a 10-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter who has cerebral palsy, both of whom must be taken to school. Her own school day stretches from 7:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., when she races to pick up her daughter. She gets everyone started on homework and then goes to her own job, where she works 32 hours a week.

If someone gets sick - one of her children; her husband; her younger brother, who helps out; or her mother, who lives upstairs - the whole system caves in. God forbid she gets sick herself.

But Alphonse-Brown is from a family of strong women, she says. Her mother has always told her, "You do what you have to do." Right now, she has to study and raise her children and keep her house running. She has a good family support system, but some days she yearns for what she calls "me time."

She's matter-of-fact about her career.

"I don't think I can do eight more years as a CNA," she says. Caring for her growing daughter has already taken a toll on her back. Nor can she plan financially for her family when per-diem nursing assistants are so often the first employees laid off.

Alphonse-Brown needs training to advance out of a career that rarely pays more than $26,000 a year.

Legislators are considering a bill this session that would put more money toward adult education for people like her. Backed by an unusual coalition of organizations, including Connecticut Women's Education and Legal Fund, several chambers of commerce and the Capitol Region Education Council, among others, the bill is meant to provide more adult education and vocational and technical training. On this the disparate groups agree: Connecticut's workforce needs a boost. Too many families bottom out at low-paying jobs and stay in lower income brackets for generations because of a lack of education.

Consider some numbers: As tuition rises in the state, fewer students continue on to college, and the higher the degree, the greater the potential earning power. Roughly 40 percent of employers in a Careerbuilder.com survey say they have jobs that are left open for want of qualified candidates. A Connecticut Business and Industry Association survey says that 46 percent of employers say workers need more basic skills such as math, reading, writing and problem-solving.

In a state that is hemorrhaging young workers, a bill that expands education opportunities "provides critical investments in the training that workers and employers need to remain competitive," says Alice Pritchard, CWEALF executive director. She says her organization has been advocating for work-force development since it started in '73, and this fits right in. "We believe in building individual human capital," Pritchard says.

Eventually, Alphonse-Brown will be an LPN - she's that determined - but already has her eyes on another prize. She wants to be a pediatric nurse. Determined though she may be, she will need some help.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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