Stacia Tudhope of Independence was making $9 an hour at a credit union and knew she wanted to make a change.

She was among 100 people early this year who applied for 15 slots in a pilot program spearheaded by the Community Services League. For 10 weeks, the 15 women, all from Independence, would study – lectures and hands-on work – to become certified nursing aides. Then each would be offered a job, at $12.79 an hour plus benefits, at Truman Medical Centers – Lakewood.

Friday was test day and then graduation day. Twelve of the 15 took and passed the test (the other three have a bit of coursework to finish, then test).

How was the course?

“In the end, wonderful,” Tudhope said. “Through all, stressful.”

Like others in the program, she said this is a critical step forward. CNAs can keep earning certifications and perhaps work into nursing. Tudhope hopes to become a registered nurse within four years.

A job with benefits also is a step up. Tudhope and her husband have two children, ages 6 and 2.

“Health insurance is big thing,” Tudhope said. “We’ve never been able to afford health insurance.”

About 30 friends and family of the graduates came to a brief ceremony Friday afternoon in an old bank building in Fairmount that the Community Services League has bought for expanded programming in northwest Independence.

“To see the support for women who have gone through the program is just incredible,” said Doug Cowan, the group’s president and CEO.

Cowan and other community leaders meet informally but frequently to discuss what can be done to revitalize the U.S. 24 area, and he said late last year a discussion of economic development and stronger neighborhoods led to one clear topic – the need for good jobs. Also, Truman Medical Centers has a relatively new clinic in Fairmount, and TMC is always needing CNAs. And aging population means they will be in constant demand.

 

“The long-term care facilities are full,” said Lynette Wheeler, TMC-Lakewood’s chief operating officer and a nurse.

The pilot program that local leaders came up with involved federal community development money provided by the city, Metropolitan Community Colleges to teach the students and the efforts of such groups as the Local Investment Commission, called LINC. Some of the students quit the jobs they had for the 10 weeks of study; others studied as they kept working. The idea behind the program was to pay for the training as well as other needs, from scrubs, shoes and stethoscopes to household assistance needed in the absence of a paycheck.

Total cost: about $2,333 per student.

Community Services League officials have said they’d like to do the program again, perhaps with CNAs and perhaps in other fields.

“We’re actively seeking grant funding, corporate funding, even city funding,” Cowan said.

Patrice Carpenter, a registered nurse who teaches at MCC and who did the lecture portion of the students’ training, said the 15 worked hard.

“I’m so proud of every one of them,” she said.

Cowan echoed that praise in addressing the graduates’ friends and family.

“Many of them,” he said, “quit their jobs and went on a leap of faith and said,’I’m going to do something different with my life.’”

He added, “because it’s not easy, and they’ve worked their tails off to get where they are.”