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Program Targets Nurse Aides

March 24, 2005

Lucille Green is known as a "people person" at the nursing home where she has worked as a certified nurse aide for many years. She enjoys talking with the patients, and she collects soda cans so she can buy them small gifts with the deposit money.

But through a pilot program called "Bridges to Health Care Training," Green, 60, of Hartford, a Jamaican immigrant with three grown children and six grandchildren, is looking forward to a career upgrade that will allow her to help people in bigger ways.

"I always thought that I was too old to go back to school," Green said. "But the "Bridges" program is a new beginning, leading up to choosing a new career in health care - possibly social work."

Capital Community College, Capital Workforce Partners, the Capitol Region Education Council, and District 1199 of the New England Health Care Employees Union have teamed up to create a 60-week pilot program that will prepare certified nurse aides to enter college programs for allied health or related careers. Twenty-five employed, certified nurse aides with high school diplomas or GEDs, were selected for the free training program, which began in January and is funded through a $140,000 state grant.

Marie Spivey, of Capital Workforce Partners, the chairwoman of the program's oversight committee, said the participants are taking English, math and basic computer classes at Capital. They will be introduced to a variety of health care careers, learn medical terminology and employment skills, and work with a case manager to develop a plan for a more challenging, higher paying career.

Upon completion of the "Bridges" program, students will be ready to begin studies leading to an associate's degree at a community college, and possibly move on to more advanced degrees in the future.

"As a social worker, I could listen to people's concerns and try to help them," Green said. "The `Bridges' program takes the fear out of going back to school."

One recent evening, several students joined a discussion of the "Bridges" program with Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez; Capital's new president, Calvin E. Woodland; and program officials. The students talked about their lives, their goals and their gratitude for the new opportunities opening up for them.

Jessica Rentas, 28, of Hartford, a single mother of two children who is originally from Puerto Rico, said the "Bridges" program is her first step to becoming a registered nurse.

"This program is giving me the tools to achieve what I want to in life, and also to set a good example for my children," Rentas said.

The the energetic Valentin Otazu-Toro, 34, who came to Hartford from Peru five years ago, said he now plans to become a licensed practical nurse, a registered nurse, and then a physician.

"This is a great opportunity for all of us from other countries," he said. "I see the Spanish community here growing so much, and we could help meet the need for bilingual health care workers."

Magnus Duru, 40, of New Britain, who came to the United States from Nigeria with his wife and four children in 2002, said he is "the happiest among the class" for the opportunity to begin studying for a new career as a nurse.

"I always had the desire to go to school while working," Duru said. "You cannot survive without education."

The mayor encouraged the students to become lifelong learners, and he said higher education is the key to new economic opportunities for city residents.

"With two major medical centers in the city, health care is one of the industries where there will always be growth," Perez said.

Hartford resident Percival Richards, 57, who arrived in the city from Jamaica in 1981 and is the father of three sons and grandfather of one grandson, said he is grateful for a chance to further his education and begin a better job as a nurse.

"This is one of the best things that ever happened to me," Richards said.

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.
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