On Thursday, July 31st, ten single mothers celebrated during an inspiring and tear-filled graduation ceremony at Alta Vista Elementary School. Graduates include: Tanysha Curry; Jazmin Espinoza-Flores; Alejandra Garcia; Karen Greenstreet; Crystal Grogg; Katherine Johnson; Joy Most; Katrina Patterson; Felicia Skillern; Deyandra Sutton.
For four days out of every one of the last seven weeks the graduates donned their red and white scrubs to attend the AmericanRed Cross Certified Nursing Assistant training program hosted at Alta Vista Elementary and supported by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. For those seven tough weeks the graduates juggled the responsibilities of multiple jobs, homework, studying for exams, and raising children as single mothers in order to attend the early morning classes. When asked what kept them going, a unanimous answer was the desire of the graduates had to better the lives of their family and the ongoing support and motivation from their classmates and instructors.
The CNA program at Alta Vista is currently in its second year of operation. In March of 2013, after a series of brainstorming in the community on philanthropic two-generational approaches, Alta Vista’s principal, Dr. Barbara Shirley, a team of social workers, and Community Foundation of Sarasota County leaders partnered with the local American Red Cross to develop a two-generation program based at Alta Vista. The program comprises of a CNA training program, including courses on resume building and interview tips, for mothers whose children participate in the school’s Eagle Academy, a summer education program for pre-K and kindergarten students from low-income families. With educational and financial support from the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, the mothers –whose previous jobs had included minimum wage positions– managed substantial coursework, clinical training sessions, weekly support groups, and received vital assistance like access to free breakfasts, lunches and a food pantry, which all resulted in becoming certified nurse assistants.
One by one the children of the single mothers shyly - or not so much - wandered onto the stage with their own unique style and present a rose to their proud new graduate as they received their certifications and awards. The mothers tried to fight back tears as instructors read hand-written notes from the mothers’ young children, describing how watching their mom work and study so hard inspires them in their own schooling. One kindergartener blissfully expresses: “now Mommy can buy me a boat!” As the ceremony comes to an end, the lights dim as each of the graduates light a candle. In unison they recite the pledge of the American Red Cross and reflect on those who dedicate their life to prevent and alleviate human suffering wherever it may be found. For the graduates, they leave not just with a certificate, but a new family of those they learned with, supported, and cried with during the last seven weeks.
“This initiative truly demonstrates that if you give motivated people in our community the opportunity to better their lives, and they seize it, incredible things can happen,” Says Roxie Jerde, keynote speaker and President and CEO of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. “When I looked around the room I saw hope for the graduates, their families, and the community. The ceremony was a celebration of crucial investments in tomorrow, knowing each of the graduates will contribute to a bright future. This achievement shows the result of successful partnerships in our community and I want to thank the incredible leadership at Alta Vista, the organizations who have helped along the way including the Red Cross and the Boys and Girls Club, and especially the donors who are passionate about providing career training and scholarships to single mothers in our community.”