March 24, 2005
By SUSAN KANIA, SPECIAL TO THE COURANT
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
"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
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
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
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
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
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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