In the computer lab at the North Independence branch of Mid-Continent Public Library, more than a dozen women listen, take notes and ask questions as a Metropolitan Community Colleges instructor leads them through the day’s work.

Take full advantage of the practice tests, the instructor says. Get handy with using your smartphone for the paperwork aspect of the job. It saves a lot of time, he says.

This was the first of 10 weeks for 15 Independence residents training to become certified nursing aides, in a pilot program focused on the northwest side of the city. Each of the 15 has a job waiting for her.

How’s the class work going?

“It’s not easy,” Crystal Walz said with a laugh.

But Walz, who has five children, ages 7 to 15, one with epilepsy, and who has at times been homeless, sees this as a step up from her current $9.50-an-hour job as an in-home aide.

The new jobs are at Truman Medical Center-Lakewood’s long-term-care facility. They start at $12.79 and have benefits such as insurance. That’s huge for Walz.

“It’s been seven years since I had health insurance,” she said.

She said it’s hard to get on at TMC, and it’s a more stable job.

“Just being a CNA is getting me in the door,” she said.


Focus on Fairmount

Several groups have been looking at U.S. 24 west of Sterling Avenue, the Fairmount area. The ad hoc “24 Highway Economic Development Group” has included the Community Services League, 12 Blocks West, the Local Investment Commission – known as LINC – the city’s economic development office, and TMC, which opened a clinic in Fairmount in 2012.

The development conversation turned to jobs – a pressing issue in that area – and Lynette Wheeler, chief operating officer of TMC-Lakewood, said she pointed out that certified nursing aides are hard to find and recruit. There’s a steady demand.

The idea took off and became a pilot program. The city could kick in $34,655 in federal community development money, handled by 12 Blocks West, but it came with the stipulation that those getting worker training have guaranteed jobs. TMC agreed to that. Metropolitan Community Colleges-Penn Valley is providing the classes.

It makes sense “just because it’s an extremely high-need area,” said Lynn Rose, vice president of the Community Services League.

Wheeler said CNAs help people with daily activities such as bathing, walking, getting to and from the bathroom.

“Most of their activities are direct resident care,” she said.

“They basically do all the work that nurses don’t have time to do,” added Debby Laufer, senior Work Express career coach at the Community Services League and a coordinator of the pilot program.

Doug Cowan, CSL’s president and CEO, said the benefits on top of the $12.79 an hour at TMC put the value at about $16 a hour. The agency is doing what it can to provide the students with wrap-around services so they have the support they need to through the program.

“These women are not on an island by themselves,” he said.

Becoming a CNA, Cowan said, puts “a lifetime of opportunity in front of them.”

“Many of them are interested in becoming nurses,” Laufer added.

Wheeler said it’s been great to see the groups working together.

“It’s really a win-win situation for everyone,” she said, adding that the focus now is on getting this pilot program completed successfully but that there’s already talk of repeating it. Cowan said the same, and said employers have asked about other ways to apply the program. Construction, for instance, has possibilities.

Ashleigh Maes, 21, has two little girls. She is working nights right now in a $10.50-an-hour job similar – but uncertified – to the work she’s training for. She goes to work at 10 p.m., works until 6:30 a.m. and then is in class at 8 a.m. The schedule is “a tough one,” she agreed.

The pilot program has supplied vouchers to cover school supplies, as well as five sets of scrubs and shoes.

“Nothing is out of pocket,” Maes said.

“After this, I plan to go on to more schooling,” she said. The next step is to become a certified medical technician, which takes about a year. Then she’ll look at becoming an LPN.

Wheeler said CMTs work under the license of a doctor, and that training takes about a year.


CSL doing more

The Community Services League is adding to its presence in Fairmount. It’s probably best known for its emergency assistance programs such as its food shelves and utility help, but it has three other major programs as well – Work Express, its Financial Opportunity Center and Housing Counseling, each meant to address long-term issues of work and financial stability.

Those three will be offered at the agency’s new facility in an old bank on U.S. 24. That effort just got a big boost from the Eastern Independence Rotary Club, which donated $8,000 for six computers, work stations and software. That’s to address a common problem: Many CSL clients don’t have Internet access at home, and most job applications are taken online these days.

The Rotarians raised the money through such things as their annual “Independence Uncorked” wine festival.

“Those funds are going to put brand-new computers in the computer program there on 24,” Cowan said.

Editor's note: This story has been clarified since an earlier version regarding the roles of the Community Services League and 12 Blocks West.