Ohio University

Aspire Career Bridges Health Care Program helps adults obtain training, jobs

Published: April 1, 2020 Author: Tony Meale

Shania Hensley, due to circumstances beyond her control, found herself homeless at 15. She fell in with the wrong crowd, dropped out of high school, struggled with addiction, and ultimately ended up in jail.

Her life had spiraled out of control.

Hensley, however, overcame her addiction and turned her life around—and the Career Bridges Health Care program played a role in that.

“Career Bridges is such a wonderful program,” said Hensley, 21, who is training to be a nursing assistant. “I never thought that I would be able to get a job I've always wanted with being a high school dropout and for having a past.”

Hensley, along with Melanie Saltzman and Megan McQuade, graduated from Career Bridges Health Care on March 6. This pilot program, made possible through Aspire, had two goals: one, to educate and train community members to obtain meaningful work, and two, to help area healthcare facilities recruit and retain a skilled workforce. 

“As their primary instructor, it has been an honor working with such motivated and dedicated students,” said Dr. Carrie Ann Verge. “Each of these women have broken down barriers and overcome challenges to be in the program.”

Aspire, which is sponsored by the Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE), provides free services for individuals who need assistance acquiring skills to be successful in post-secondary education, training, and employment. Ohioans 18 and older with less than a 12th grade education are eligible to participate.

“This is such an important program, and we are thrilled to work with the Ohio Department of Higher Education in this capacity,” said Dr. Julie Francis, Stevens Literacy Center director. “Much of our focus has been on enhancing P-12 learning, but we’ve really pushed the boundaries beyond that. We want to improve and expand adult basic education by creating pathways that lead to careers and advanced education, and this is a wonderful opportunity to do that.”

Hensley, Saltzman, and McQuade completed nearly 100 hours of instruction time over five weeks, including 20 hours of job-shadowing at Hocking Valley Community Hospital, and received certificates in CPR First Aid and Customer Service. They also completed several specialized workshops, such as working with survivors of domestic violence, trauma-informed care, and working with aging populations.

“Carrie Ann and [Aspire Grant Program Manager] Ginger Gagne have been so uplifting and encouraging towards me,” said Hensley, who lives in Crooksville, Ohio. “They believed in me, so I worked even harder to prove to myself it was possible.”

All three participants will complete a State Tested Nursing Assistant (STNA) program at Tri County Career Center in Nelsonville, Ohio. Upon passing their state tests, they could procure employment at Hocking Valley Community Hospital, which has asked participants to return to be interviewed for open positions. This would allow each participant to receive health insurance and educational benefits to pay for advanced schooling.

“I am now living in my own house and about to start a STNA job. My family is so proud of all the work I've done,” said Hensley. “I just want to thank everybody for being so supportive and showing they care. I recommend Career Bridges to everybody who asks me about it.”

Career Bridges focuses on workforce development and community outreach, which are key components of OHIO’s Fearlessly First Strategic Framework. In seeking to reimagine higher education, OHIO is focused on advancing and realizing four themes: Access and Inclusion, Student Success and Transformation, Research and Knowledge Discovery in Support of Vibrant Communities, and Sustainable Academic Enterprise. As alternatives to four-year degrees continue to be promoted, OHIO is committed to exploring workforce development and credentials as a pipeline for degree-completion and lifelong learning.

“Although the pilot has been small, it has been successful beyond all of my initial expectations for the program,” said Verge, who designed course curriculum. “I believe going forward we can use what we learned to mitigate some of the early challenges we faced and build an even better and more cohesive program for future students and employers.”

Verge will teach the second installment of the Career Bridges Health Care program, which begins May 1 at OhioHealth O’Bleness in Athens. Similar Career Bridges programs in manufacturing are also starting later this spring at Athens Mold and Machine.

“When educational institutions, training providers, social services, businesses, and community stakeholders come together to support these free programs,” said Francis, “we create a positive synergy, and everyone in our region benefits.”