On the right path

MARSHALL – The hope of a better life, personifying a positive role model for their children and fulfilling their passion to help others are some of the reasons area residents are grateful for the certified nursing assistant program.

For Josue Palacios Lopez, the courses he has taken at Southwest Adult Basic Education have enabled him “to be a better husband and father. I know that I can offer stability for my family in the future with a better job.”

Lopez is one of the participants in the Southwest Minnesota Career Pathway Training project, which offers the opportunity for unemployed or under-employed adults to prepare for and enter a career pathway that leads to long-term, stable employment.

He is the first one in his family to complete the General Educational Development tests.

“I will be an example to my sons and my relatives as well,” he said. “My older brother decided to go back to school.”

After completing his GED, Lopez continued his education by taking the Universal Healthcare Worker course.

“As a student, being in this program has helped me to see my potential,” he said. “I can see that college is a future possibility for me. Before this program, I did not think school was an option for me.”

Lopez is currently employed in the construction industry.

In my work, this has helped me become a more efficient, reliable and stable employee,” he said. “I feel more confident than before. The lessons in the career class have helped me to improve my skills. I feel more valuable and know that this has helped me become a better team member.”

Lopez said without the help of these programs, “this wouldn’t be happening.” He said he is an example for “those who dream of a better tomorrow. I encourage them to keep moving forward.”

Lopez said he plans to keep studying and eventually get his degree in nursing.

“I believe I can do it,” he said.

Yesenla Contreras’ employer, PrairieView Healthcare Center in Tracy, is encouraging of her participation in the CNA program, she said. She is able to schedule her working hours around school.

“I’m currently working at a nursing home as a housekeeper,” she said. “I go and clean the residents’ rooms and I love it, but I want to do more than just clean rooms for the rest of my life.”

Contreras is also interested in pursuing a career in the medical field.

“I love to talk to the residents,” she said.

With two young sons who need diapers and formula, she doesn’t have the wherewithal to fund further education, she said.

“If the classes weren’t free, I wouldn’t be able to go back to school,” she said.

Now she will work as a CNA at PrairieView and still work in housekeeping as needed, she said.

Helping individuals and their families while providing the state with contributing citizens is the result of a program approved by the Minnesota State Legislature.

Southwest ABE pays for the program with its “program dollars instead of waiting for grants,” Pat Thomas, the coordinator for ABE Southwest Minnesota, said. “It’s patterned after the state FastTRAC model.”

Thomas said the program offers a “big economic return for the region” and the state Legislature “needs to invest new monies” into it.

In 2013 Minnesota FastTRAC Adult Career Pathways received an allocation from the Workforce Development Fund in the amount of $3 million per biennium to serve Minnesota residents in need of career pathway training, Thomas said.

“In addition to the funds allocated via the workforce development fund, state and philanthropic agencies have leveraged additional resources to align broader efforts to support this population of under skilled, low income individuals,” she said. “Such partners include the Minnesota Department of Education Adult Basic Education, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, the Minnesota Department of Human Services, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities and philanthropic organizations such as Greater Twin Cities United Way.”

About 50 percent of the program recipients are minorities, she said.

“Some of these people are the first in their families to get GEDs or any kind of post-secondary schooling,” Thomas said. “These people are the pioneers who will pave the way for their children and grandchildren and create a new culture where post-secondary education is a natural part of life.”

Thomas said the program is co-instructed by Minnesota West Community & Technical College faculty with Adult Basic Education instructors. The Minnesota West program has been “phenomenal” in its partnership as has the local WorkForce Center, which has been a “tremendous resource” for the students. “They have helped them be successful in the future.”