Last summer, Lisa Columbus noticed a sign posted outside an old, familiar brick building on Sheridan Avenue: “Now enrolling. Head Start. Ages 3-4.”
She walked into the Albany Community Action Partnership offices to fill out an application for her 4-year-old son, but walked out with an education plan for herself as well. The staff had told Columbus about the Health Profession Opportunity Grant program — an initiative to help low-income students prepare for careers in health care with free training, employment assistance, and amenities like free day care and transportation.
The opportunity sounded too good to be true for Columbus, who was paying off student loans and raising a newborn baby and pre-schooler. She was hoping to find a job that paid more than minimum wage in order to save up for graduate school and a doctorate in psychology, and a career in health care would fit into her long-term plan to become a child psychologist.
“There’s no way I could have taken out another loan,” she said. “I probably would have ended up working just a regular, long-hours, low-paying job or something. I definitely would be struggling without this program.”
On Wednesday, CDPHP pledged $20,000 to the Schenectady County Community College Foundation to support the program. SCCC plans to use the funds for expanded offerings at its Albany program site at 175 Central Ave.
SCCC was one of only four institutions in the state, and 32 in the nation, to receive the job-training grant, funded through the Administration for Children and Families, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. At the time, it was the college’s single largest grant in history at $11.4 million. To be eligible, students must receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or earn an income that falls below 200 percent of the poverty level.
So far, SCCC has trained students for careers as home health aides, certified nurse aides, personal care aides, dental lab technicians, medical coding and billing specialists, and registered nurses through an arrangement with Ellis School of Medicine. It has two HPOG labs — one in Schenectady and one in Albany — that replicate long-term care facilities with hospital beds, mannequins and more.
More than 560 students have graduated from the program since its inception in 2011, with a completion rate of 92 percent. A total of 512 graduates have received licenses through the program, and 332 have been employed as a result. With new training in chemical dependency, nutrition and early childhood education, the college expects to increase those numbers.
“The list continues to grow as we explore other opportunities that are needed within our community,” said SCCC President Quintin Bullock at a news conference Wednesday.
CDPHP President and CEO John Bennett started his career as an orderly — the only orderly at a 250-bed hospital.
“You are extraordinarily important to the patients in the roles that you will have,” he said to a half-dozen students who attended the news conference. “You will have more true patient contact than most of the doctors, than probably all of them. And so you can really make a difference in your job every day, and I know just how important everybody is on the health care team.”
After a two-year timeout to raise her new son, Jessica Keegan was able to re-enter the health care field in an even better position than the one she’d left at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany. Through the HPOG program, she earned her certified nurse’s aide credential in July. While she works at Ellis, she plans to earn a two-year degree and then a four-year degree to become either a registered nurse or an administrator at a health care facility.
“That class just started off a windfall of opportunities to get me where I wanted to be and helped me guide my way to the career that I eventually wanted to be at,” she said. “It helped me with childcare and it’s helping a lot of other people.”