On June 17, 2014 over 200 members, staff, family and friends attended the Training Fund’s annual graduation recognition ceremony. Close to 60 members graduated this year with degrees and certificates including High School Diploma, Certifications, Associate’s Degrees, Bachelor’s Degrees, and Master’s Degrees.
Vanessa Thigpen, an Arden House worker for 27 years, has been taking “Spanish for the Healthcare Worker.” She is a person who embraces multi-cultural communities and states, “I think the Spanish class is the best thing that the Training Fund provides because it gives you the basics to communicate with someone who is ill. I put a smile on and say ‘good morning’ in Spanish and it makes the resident feel wonderful. Before the Spanish class, I would have to get the maintenance worker to speak to my Spanish speaking residents; now I can do it myself. “
An Arden House worker for 27 years, Vanessa was there when the Union was brought in. “But we didn’t have the Training Fund, “ she said. “I was heartsick when we got our first contract because I knew the Training Fund could help expand our horizons. Once a person is confident, there’s no stopping them. “ Thanks to Vanessa and her co-workers, Arden House now has the Training Fund in their contract and they love it.
Active in her community, Vanessa participates in “Grandparents on the Move,” which meets as a committee concerned with the education of grandchildren. In addition, she encourages others to be persistent in school and use the Training Fund. “I was out of school for a while and rusty. The first time I took classes, I was overwhelmed, but failure wasn’t an option for me. The Training Fund let me try again. Vanessa recommends that people make the time to study for school, “otherwise you won’t remember. I make time for me even after working 12 hours.”
She is a licensed Phlebotomist through the Training Fund, and is currently taking Critical Thinking, math and continuing with Spanish classes.
St. Clair Caines has worked as a C. N. A. at Advanced Nursing of New Haven for eight years. A grateful Union member and Training Fund participant, St. Clair states, “Thank God for the 1199 Union. A lot of our forefathers worked (and died) for some of the rights that we have today–Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcom X. We can’t take our rights for granted. If the Union wasn’t there, what would your life be like?”
In addition to completing the 20 week long Training Fund sponsored Phlebotomy Program held at New Haven Adult Education Center, St. Clair also participated in computer classes and Spanish for the Healthcare Worker Course. The (Spanish) teacher Kathy was so down-to-earth.”
When he was younger, growing up in St. Kitts meant surviving to feed your family. “You focused on pigs, sheep and horses; there wasn’t time to focus on studies at home. But when he turned 18 and took at tehncology program, he started to realize his potential. Today he full responsibility of being in charge of his education and future and becoming “your own person”. He encourages others to remember the benefits they have and be “real and authentic”.
Family life and going to school has been challenging. For years, he supported his wife’s efforts to get through nursing school. With six children it was sometimes a struggle to get to work and school. But through his “take charge” attitude, St. Clair persisted. “Knowledge is half the battle. Then we have to exercise by going and doing what we know. You live, learn, then act.”
“I love to learn”, says Sharon McGee. “I’m never ashamed or afraid to ask for help.” Sharon recently finished her Bachelor’s Degree in Human Services through Springfield College, utilizing tuition reimbursement and tutoring services through the Training Fund. A CNA at Touchpoints at Manchester, (formerly Bidwell Care Center) Sharon spent her weekends for an entire year from 9:30am to 5:30pm, Saturdays and Sundays, completing her studies and studying while everyone else in her house was asleep.
She said, “I learned to drink a lot of coffee!” A mother of four, Sharon also took in her nephew to prevent him from going into foster care. “Sometimes I would have to bring my child to school with me.” Sharon explains that in the past, work would get in the way of her ability to go back to school. The temptation of the full time paycheck and picking up overtime and weekends put off her schooling until “they eliminated my position. They offered me sixteen hours or a pink slip. That’s what made me go back to school—I always wanted to be a social worker.”
She encourages everyone to always take at least one class because, “the business is always changing: here today, gone tomorrow. It could be a basic class. Without an education, you’ll never get the job you want. You might have the skills and experience, but without that piece of paper, you’ll be shut out.”
Her dream job? –to work at the Juvenile Detention Center. “I hate to see kids hurt, often, all they need is one person.”
Ena Ormsby, St. Mary Home, Leonie Parks, Avery Heights, and Beatrice Boansi, Kettle Brook Care Center, are CNAs, union leaders, and members of the 1199 Training Fund Board of Trustees. All three of them have used the Training Fund for various things over the years, and all three are currently in school.
Ena is taking pre-requisite classes at Capital Community College and considering a degree in social services; Leonie is enrolled at Manchester Community College and plans to earn her Associates Degree in Culinary Arts; Beatrice is enrolled in cosmetology school and hopes to open her own business.
Ena says that being part of the union “gives us dignity. It teaches us our rights. It also helps us go to school. Going back to school was something that I always wanted to do, and now I’m doing it…and I intend to finish my degree!”
Leonie says “the union helps us in every way. Being part of the union makes sure we have equal rights at work and makes us feel like we are human beings. The Training Fund helps us achieve our dreams by going back to school. I can now help my kids and grandkids with their homework in ways that I never could before. Plus, not only did I earn my high school diploma through the Training Fund, I will earn my college degree as well!”
“Before joining 1199, I was blind,” says Beatrice. “I did not know my rights at work, and did not know where to go to school. The union has opened my eyes in so many ways. Through the Training Fund, I received my high school diploma. Even though I had a diploma from Ghana, I wanted an American diploma. The Training Fund has also helped me improve my writing skills and my computer skills.”
Lincoln Williams was a plumber for 12 years in Jamaica, working for the National Water Commission. He was also a chef, running his own restaurant. In December 2009, he came to the United States and had to begin all over again.
His wife is a nurse, and shortly after coming to this country, he decided to take a Certified Nurse’s Aide training course, and “Now I’m hooked.” He says he is a “people person” and loves working with his residents at Trinity Hill Care center in Hartford.
Realizing the importance of education, he recently completed a Basic Computer Skills course at the Training Fund in Hartford. He says that he “Learned the basics, how to email, how to pay bills on-line, how to look for information on the internet” and he plans to continue. He is already enrolled in the next level computer course and also plans to begin the High School Diploma program in the Fall.
Lincoln says he wants to take his plans to the extreme. “The sky is the limit, keep going level after level wherever it takes. You have to know what you want, and when you get there, you will know it. Don’t let your dreams pass you by.”
Rae Losnes, Regina Estrada, and Faith Morico have worked together as LPNs at Silver Springs Care Center in Meriden for many years. Regina and Faith went through LPN school together at Vinyl Tech in Middletown. All three are currently enrolled in the on-line “Direct Care Worker Certificate Program” through Charter Oak State College, and they love it!
Rae says that taking these classes on-line “took some getting used to” and Faith added “It was scary at first, but it’s not as bad as I thought.” Regina said that none of them had been in school for awhile, but “Our kids are all in college, and we need to get back into this!”
They felt that there was “strength in numbers” and so the three of them decided to go through these courses together. They have completed the “Issues in Aging” and “Alzheimer’s and Dementia” courses, and are now enrolled in the “Hospice and Palliative Care” course.
They say that they are “definitely implementing things that we are learning.” Faith and Regina both work on the dementia wing, and say that “redirection and validation work with most of our residents…though not all of them.”
They are also sharing what they learn with their CNAs. Regina says that “The classes are giving me insight about how to interact with my residents, and also how to better interact with my staff. We teach them what we’re learning, and also try to lead by example. For instance, because we are now more educated about the disease process, we know that weight loss is to be expected. Sharing this information helps to de-stress the unit.”
The three of them are considering going on to become Registered Nurses. Regina says “I would not have considered that option if I hadn’t taken these courses. We’d encourage anyone to give this a try!”
Orlando Daron has worked as a CNA at St. Mary Home in West Hartford for 12 years. He began taking classes at Capital Community College in 2006, has taken two courses per semester since then, and is graduating this spring with an Associate’s Degree in Social Services. After graduating, he plans to continue on for his Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work and hopes to work in mental health counseling.
Orlando’s son is graduating from Windsor High School this spring, and Orlando smiles at the thought of the two of them graduating together. “My son is very excited, and so am I,” he says.
Orlando has a passion for community work, for working with those less fortunate. In Jamaica, he did pastoral work, worked with youth leagues and coordinated netball competitions. Once coming to Connecticut in 2002, he became an Elder at the Calvary Church of God in Christ in Bloomfield, where he also sings in the church choir, teaches the male Sunday School class, and is the Sunday School Coordinator.
He says that going to school all of these years has been challenging. “Sometimes I wondered if I’d make it through, but it takes discipline, commitment, and determination to accomplish your dream.” He also says that it is important to accept encouragement from outside sources. His wife has been very supportive, as have been other friends and co-workers.
“The Training Fund encourages people to broaden their scope of knowledge. These are great opportunities for 1199 workers, and we should take advantage of it.”