Without a high school diploma and no specific career training, Sherice Jenkins was becoming frustrated with her life.
Then, she visited the John Boner Neighborhood Centers, seeking help with her utility bill, and heard about the IU Health Careers Opportunity Program through the Health Careers Institute. There, she could earn her High School Equivalency (HSE) while studying for a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) certificate.
The program, a partnership between the IUPUI School of Health and Human Sciences, and the Boner Center, was a federally-funded initiative designed to provide disadvantaged students with the academic and social skills to successfully graduate from health professional programs. The grant paid for students to receive a stipend and lunches, and for staff to teach the program.
IUPUI helped oversee the program by setting up site visits, where participants in the program visited different sites, such as the anatomy lab at the IUPUI School of Health and Human Sciences, and bringing in speakers, including people working in the medical field and staff from her department, said Rosslyn Lewis, who was project manager.
Students in the program participate in career exploration, education and career plans, field trips and guest speakers, job shadowing or interviews with those in the field of interest, career presentation and financial education.
The goal at the end was for the participants to be able to transfer to Ivy Tech Community College, and eventually to IUPUI to further their education, Lewis said.
From 2016 to 2018, the program had 78 graduates – an 86 percent completion rate. Of those, 45 enrolled in programs to get their high school equivalency, nine received career certifications, 10 were placed in jobs and three enrolled in courses at Ivy Tech Community College.
Students in the program had a median age of 38, live mainly on the east side of downtown, more than half were not working when they started the class and more than 80 percent were African American women, according to program demographics.
Being able to help adult learners was one of the most rewarding parts of the program, Lewis said.
“Helping people that felt like their life, their education was over. Seeing them rejuvenated, and seeing that their life doesn’t stop,” Lewis said.
For Sherice, her dream was to get the training needed to work as a CNA, earning a steady income and doing work she enjoyed. She had worked in the health care field before, but her license had expired, and she hadn’t been through schooling or training in years.
Being an adult student came with challenges, with her daily responsibilities pulling at her while she was trying to attend classes and study.
“I had to push myself harder because I had been out of school for quite some time,” she said.
“I knew no one else was going to do it for me. I had to do it for myself.”
Sherice completed her CNA training and passed the Indiana State Department of Health Nurse Aide Competency Evaluation, earning her license. Less than three weeks later, she was offered a CNA position near her home. Her next goal is to go back to school and train to become a Qualified Medication Aide.
Sherice’s story was one of several success stories of the program, where people were able to move from a limited income, often relying on government assistance, to being able to support themselves, Lewis said.
The IU Health Careers Opportunity Program initially targeted people interested in becoming a CNA, but was expanded to other healthcare fields after organizers learned that many residents did not know about those other opportunities, including Certified Medical Assistant, Pharmacy Tech and Phlebotomy.
The program ended in 2018 because the federal grant ran out, but Lewis and others with the School of Health and Human Sciences continue searching for and applying for new funding, Lewis said.
This program was especially promising because it helps residents immediately, with a stipend, but doesn’t stop there and instead helps them long-term by providing additional education and skills, Lewis said.
“Partnerships like this can work. It is very impactful working with individuals to better themselves,” Lewis said.
“I feel the program was successful because if it had not been at the Boner Centers, that number of people would still be right where they were four years ago.”