By Kalea Hall
There were some tear-jerking moments Wednesday afternoon at St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital.
Seven Mercy Health employees graduated from the “School at Work” program that all of them said gave them a chance to further their education and believe in themselves to complete an educational program years after their last school lesson.
“This class got the cobwebs off of my brain,” said Brenda Williams, 51, of Youngstown, a graduate.
The six-month program taught Williams and her six classmates and co-workers math, reading, grammar, medical terminology and life skills. Students also developed a career path in the program.
Williams, who works in the lab for Mercy Health, is now enrolled at Youngstown State University with the goal of becoming a health care administrator one day.
Two of the program’s graduates will attend YSU, three will attend Eastern Gateway Community College and two applied for more- advanced positions at Mercy Health.
The program, funded through a federal grant, has had 22 other graduates. It was first implemented in Mercy Health Cincinnati hospitals and then brought to Youngstown.
Mercy Health is one of 30 employers noted by the White House blog for its commitment to following the Upskill America initiative to help workers in their careers and with their skill sets.
Mercy Health employees looking to go back to school can apply to use the company’s tuition readmission or tuition-reimbursement programs.
“Mercy Health is a part of nationwide initiative with the emphasis to train, retain and advance our employees,” said Georgette Peters, SAW Learning coach and facilitator. “School at Work gave us the opportunity to give our students this educational enrichment that gave them the skills and confidence in their careers.”
The goal is to continue the program because of the response received from the students.
“We would like to open it to the community, too,” Peters said.
Each graduate was presented a certificate and a medal for completing the program. Blanche Pringle Smith, manager of talent acquisition pipeline development for Mercy Health, hugged each graduate after draping the medals around their necks.
“I cannot tell you how immensely proud of you I am today,” Pringle Smith said.
Alexis Harris, 40, of Campbell has plans to sign up for class at Eastern Gateway. She was working her job in environmental services for Mercy Health when she picked up the flier for the SAW program and made the decision to advance her skills. Now, she wants to continue her education in the nursing field.
“I have been out of school for a long time,” she said. “It was a brain opener and it was a beautiful experience.”
Eartha Robinson, 39, of Youngstown also plans to finish her education at Eastern Gateway and become a nurse. In addition to her job in environmental services for Mercy Health, Robinson works at Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course.
“Working two jobs made me realize I only want one job,” she said.
Leana Woolf, 46, of Berlin Center will soon watch her son graduate from high school and go off to college to start his educational journey.
And soon, she plans on going back to school to finish her education and become a registered nurse.
The 20-year licensed practical nurse said the SAW class gave her more confidence, in addition to bringing back lessons she forgot.
“It was difficult,” she said. “It was a retraining of our brains.”
Karen Carter, 42, of Youngstown, a housekeeper for Mercy Health, attends YSU now for pre-social work.
Her goal is to become a social worker working in behavioral health because her daughter is autistic.
“This program gave us the tools to facilitate a dream to go back to school,” she said.
Romona Walker, 45, of Youngstown, and Angel Vazquez, 35, also of Youngstown plan on using what they learned in the program to help them change career paths.
“The reason why I wanted to take this class was to change a little scenery,” Walker said. “My plan is to go to college to get into business or criminal justice.”