Life was bleak in 2016 for Jourdan Fischer and her two daughters.
Money was short. She had a substance abuse problem, and major health issues.
“You choose your destiny,” Fischer of Moorhead said. “Each choice you make has a consequence.”
The choices she had previously made weren’t in the best interest of her and her family, and their circumstances reflected that. Every day was a struggle. She wanted more for herself and her girls.
To begin the process of changing, Fischer first turned to her faith, then Community Action.
She called Career Connect Manager Amy Feland at Lakes & Prairies Community Action Partnership (CAPLP) to enroll in a free welding program. To give her girls a more stable life, Fischer knew she needed to find a career in an industry that paid a living wage.
“We just never know what their barriers are,” said Feland, who spoke with Fischer for quite a while that day. “Many people we serve live in crisis their whole life.”
Instead of immediately enrolling Fischer in the welding program, Feland told her about a new career workforce training program to become a certified nursing assistant. It too was free and would take less time to complete.
CAPLP, Community Action Duluth, Minnesota Valley Action Council and other Community Action Agencies offer free certified nursing assistant and other workforce training programs. The six-week certified nursing assistance programs tend to fill up quickly and jumpstart life changes for those who enroll.
“If it wouldn’t have been free, it wouldn’t have been available to me,” Fischer readily admits. “I would not be on this path. I had been a drug addict for 13 years. I decided, I’m going to do this to the best of my ability. That was my train of thought. I did not have some preconceived notion.”
The classes Fischer attended were taught by staff at Minnesota State Community and Technical College.
“They provide the training portion,” Feland said of the tech school. “We provide the supportive services.”
Four days a week earlier this year, Tamarjani Smith, 24, and her son made their way to Community Action Duluth so she could attend the CNA program the agency offered. Smith was one of nine students who went through Community Action Duluth’s first CNA class this year.
“It’s going to get me to the next step, to my goals,” Smith said, who was directed to the agency after inquiring about a fee-based certified nursing assistant course, which can cost $1,500 or more.
Her goals aren’t extraordinary. She wants to obtain her CNA certificate, get hired at a job earning a living wage, which would allow her to pay her bills and take care of her son.
“With this certificate,” Diane Amlin, a registered nurse who teaches classes at Community Action Duluth, said, “they can get a job and better their lives.”
The federal minimum wage is just $7.25. It is $8.63 in Minnesota. Even working full-time, most individuals cannot pay their rent, utilities and buy groceries with a minimum wage job.
According to Salary.com, the average CNA in Minnesota can expect to earn $35,506 annually, but the range typically falls between $32,358 and $39,203.
The population in Minnesota is rapidly aging, and there is a huge need for additional certified nursing assistants
“We are already facing severe shortages of long-term care workers,” Minnesota Department of Health Lead Health Care Workforce Analyst Teri Fritsma said. “Looking into the future, DEED is projecting that we will need more than 37,000 people to fill CNA job openings due to the combination of employment growth, people leaving the occupation and people leaving the labor force altogether.”
The need for CNAs and other aging service workers is only expected to grow.
While Community Action Agencies want participants to go to class and get certified, staff know it takes more than attending class to get individuals through the course. Each student has a coach from Community Action who they can turn to during difficult or stressful situations.
“They could have an issue – housing, transportation – we connect them to other resources in our Community Action Agency,” Feland said. “We check in everyday to make sure they’re in attendance. If they have questions or concerns about class or a barrier they’re struggling with, the coaches are alongside them to provide the support they need.”
For Smith and other single mothers in the workforce program, a barrier to attending and completing the CNA program is childcare. Community Action Agencies recognize childcare can be a challenge, so many of them offer it free while parents attend class.
“He can come with me,” Smith said of her son. “All the daycares all full, even when you’re working. Here, I don’t have to worry about paying anything.”
Community Action Duluth Education Coordinator Jenika Keup said offering childcare or other assistance builds trust between the agency and students, which can lead to them utilizing other agency services.
“There is a lot of support because we want them to be successful,” Keup said.
Many of the students don’t stop with their CNA certificate, but also earn their Trained Medication Aid certification through a Community Action Agency. The additional certificate is likely to increase their starting wage as they can also pass out medications.
Just talking about watching clients go from nervous and uncertain students to skilled certified nursing assistants, brought Community Action Duluth Instructor Kathy Weber to tears.
“That makes it the best,” she said of her students succeeding in class, passing their exams and certification tests. “I’m so proud of the students. They’re not just students, they’re family.”
For Fischer, earning her certifications through CAPLP showed her that she could not only succeed, but thrive in the health care industry.
“It made sense to me,” Fischer said of the classes. “It all clicked. It opened my mind up. I thought it might be possible for me to go on, to keep moving. That I can possibly go back to be a RN (registered nurse).”
Because Fischer called Community Action on that day long ago, and accepted the support of the agency, especially from Feland, her life trajectory changed.
“She was our cheerleader,” Fischer said of Feland. “She checked in all the time. I needed that backbone.”
Fischer got married in 2019, six months before enrolling at Moorhead State University, where she doubled majored in nursing and American Sign Language. While taking care of her family, she also worked and became president of the university’s student nursing association.
Due to her remarkable journey, Fischer was asked to speak at her graduation ceremony in May.
“If I can do it, you can do it,” Fischer said. “You have to walk through the valley. I crawled, but I kept moving.”