Teamwork on a Pathway to a New Career


Carolina, Ilda, and Karen worked in unison to remove their “patient,” Amber, from a hospital bed and onto her feet. The exercise received high marks from their peer evaluators – Mariela, Jessica, Elizabeth, and Maria – as they coached each other on the official steps in proper bed removal. Although Amber was not an actual patient and could have easily sat up and walked out of the bed herself, the eight students were in training to becoming the newest bi-lingual Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA) in the Quad Cities.

Black Hawk College (BHC) organized the CNA training as the direct result of an Educational Needs Assessment conducted in Floreciente in spring 2017. The study, funded by Flourishing Communities, revealed that few neighborhood residents had completed education beyond the secondary level, and those who had did not complete the course to earn a degree or certification because of the high cost of tuition in addition to wages lost by not working. In response to the survey, BHC identified ways to conduct educational and training opportunities in Floreciente. Health care professionals, especially CNAs and nurses, are in high demand throughout the country and the need for Spanish-speaking professionals is even higher. A short-term CNA training would be perfect for Floreciente residents seeking more gainful employment.

BHC applied for a Flourishing Communities grant to provide scholarships to eight students in a CNA program because the short, two-month duration of training does not meet the Federal and State of Illinois requirements for financial aid. Flourishing Communities awarded BHC the grant to cover the tuition and fees for the students and other local foundations covered the costs associated with uniforms and supplies. BHC would market the scholarships to Floreciente residents and work with Esperanza Center, a local community center, to hold the course there. This would provide eight students the chance to overcome some of the financial barriers and train to become CNAs. In early October, BHC reviewed applications and gave a test on basic admission requirements in reading, writing, speaking, and listening in English. BHC continued to work with the group after the test to improve some of these skills, and to build a feeling of team spirit so they would be more likely to help each other during the class.


“Changing my work schedule was difficult, but
I think making a sacrifice of work for this class was worth it!”

– Mariela Ponce, CNA Student


2.pngBefore starting the CNA program, Carolina worked as a part-time lunch lady, Mariela worked as a cleaner and Ilda took care of her grandmother throughout the week. Karen had just begun a surgical technology program and working as a CNA would provide relevant experience as she finished her associate’s degree. Jessica had wanted to become a CNA for a few years, but could not both afford the tuition and the time she would lose by not working. But with a new baby due in June, she wanted to get the certificate to provide better for her growing family. The other three students all worked in part-time or temporary jobs to support themselves and their families, but they all felt they could be doing more.

In January, Carolina, Ilda, Karen, Mariela, Jessica, Elizabeth, and Maria, united in the classroom with the shared mindset of taking advantage of the opportunity to better their situations. Over the next three months, they learned regulations and practiced skills such as taking each other’s blood pressure and checking vitals.


We work as a team. If I don't know something I can message one of my classmates and ask what is going on. It's challenging, but we work together."

– Karen Castillo, CNA Student



Test after test, with study sessions strategically placed throughout the training, they grew together as a team. By the end of April, seven of the eight students qualified to take the Illinois Nurse Assistant/Aide Competency Examination. They will receive their exam results in May. Although the eighth student did not qualify to take the exam, BHC worked with her to find a job at a local hospital, which will monitor her progress and pay for her to retake the class when she is ready.

During the final review days before the exam, participants shared that the course was “life changing” and they would not have been able to take the CNA course without the Flourishing Communities grant and BHC’s taking the effort to offer it in the neighborhood. They also spoke about the importance of having the support of their families and how becoming a CNA would not only help their families, but now, they would take care of others.


Thank you very much for this opportunity. I used to work in a hospital in Mexico and I loved my job and now I get to do it again.” – Carolina Granja, CNA Student