Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Training aims to provide brighter futures

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Tom Fedor⁄The Gazette
Desire Hallenbeck of Frederick (right) discovers the answer she's searching for during an Allied Health Academy class Tuesday night, taught by Frederick Community College reading instructor Julia Tackett (left). The academy helps public housing residents sharpen reading and writing skills as part of training for jobs in the health care industry.
On a rainy Tuesday, Andrea Gillard of Frederick had just finished an eight-hour shift as a housekeeper when she entered the Frederick Housing Authority’s office on East Patrick Street.

Shortly before 6 p.m., covered with rain and mild exhaustion, the single mom reached into a fast food bag for dinner and cracked open a textbook of medical terminology. For the next two hours, she immersed herself in everything from lymph nodes to aneurysms before finally calling it a day.

‘‘This is hard, but I do it,” Gillard, 22, said. ‘‘My family helps me out and I know it means better opportunities for my daughter [3-year-old Anyia].”

Gillard is one of 12 women enrolled in the new Allied Health Academy, providing education and training for women who live in Frederick’s public housing as a stepping stone to a better career.

‘‘When I saw that this was about nursing ... I jumped at the opportunity,” Gillard said. ‘‘I like working with other people. I think in the future, I’d like to work with babies and pregnant women, helping to bring life into the world.”

The Allied Health Academy is the latest collaboration between the Frederick Housing Authority and Frederick Community College’s Office of Adult Services.

For nearly 20 years, the two have partnered on Project ALIVE, helping public housing residents achieve career goals.

Residents in the city’s three public housing apartment complexes can qualify for the free program, offering lessons and assistance such as vouchers for child care and transportation.

‘‘We want to provide educational opportunities to our residents so that the outcome is a higher income and more self-sufficiency in their lives,” said Ann Ryan, community initiatives coordinator for the Housing Authority.

Last year, Ryan and Sandy Cavalier, director of the Office of Adult Services at Frederick Community College, decided to add a program to Project ALIVE to match the college’s courses in health care with the field’s high demand for skilled workers.

‘‘We thought it would be wonderful to give these women an opportunity to get good skills, training and make them more marketable,” Cavalier said.

In May 2007, the Women’s Giving Circle of Frederick County awarded a $5,000 grant to the college’s Women’s Center to get the pilot program started. Founder and chairwoman Karlys Kline called the academy ‘‘a perfect match” with her group’s goal of improving the lives of women and children.

For the next five months, the 12 participants will hone reading, writing and math skills related to health care with the help of college instructors. All of the students were pre-screened for their level of education by the county’s Adult Education Office.

In May, they will work with Frederick County Workforce Services to help make career choices before enrolling in community college courses for dental assistants, certified nursing assistants and pharmacy technicians.

Through a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, the county agency will also help provide funding for the classes at Frederick Community College. The students could complete education and training by March 2009, depending on the programs they choose.

Ryan estimates the entire program will cost less than $20,000, with help from all the partners involved.

On Tuesday, the class started with vocabulary lessons on medical terminology, creating groups to complete sentences testing their knowledge of the previous week’s terms.

Gillard worked alongside fellow single mother Jacqueline Bennett, 26, who lives in the Sagner community.

Bennett, a stay-at-home mom, said while it is tough balancing a 5-year-old daughter and 8-month-old son and homework, the potential outcome is too good to pass up.

‘‘I’ve always wanted to be involved in nursing and helping people,” she said. ‘‘It’s not always easy to balance everything, but I do homework late at night. It’s worth it.”