116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Merline Cadet is studying to become a certified nursing assistant — while also learning English — and fulfilling a decadeslong dream further inspired by the nurses and doctors who held her hand as her mother died three years ago.
Cadet, who immigrated to the United States 20 years ago from Haiti, came to the Catherine McAuley Center to grab groceries from its food pantry when she noticed people walking around with backpacks.
So she asked about the classes offered at the center — a nonprofit serving immigrants, refugees and women experiencing crisis in Cedar Rapids — and learned about another education program to help immigrants like her become a certified nursing assistant, or CNA.
The free program starts with students taking the Basic Healthcare Communication Class offered at the Catherine McAuley for those who need to gain additional English language skills before taking Kirkwood Community College classes.
Cadet quit her manufacturing job in Tama to attend the class every morning. She now works from midnight to 7 a.m. at Walmart, gets her children ready for the day and then comes to class.
“In life, you’ve got to fight for what you want,” Cadet said. “There’s no way you won’t make it,” given the help of the Catherine McAuley Center.
The nurses and doctors who held her hand as he mother was dying of a stroke, she said, gave her “courage” and “explained, from A to Z,” what was happening despite the language barrier.
“For what they did for me and for my mom, I have to continue my dream,” Cadet said.
Need for class
The first Basic Healthcare Communication Class was started just over a year ago after Kirkwood leaders noticed students in their English Language Learner program were struggling in regular college classes, said Amanda Weeks, Catherine McAuley’s education development coordinator.
To be eligible for the Basic Healthcare Communication Class, students must first pass an English reading and listening exam. (English Language Learner classes are offered at the center and at Kirkwood.)
The 10-week health care communication class focuses on specific English words, phrases or idioms, such as “get your foot in the door” — “if you’re not a native English speaker, you might take that literally,” Weeks said.
Eleven students are currently enrolled in the Catherine McAuley health care communication class, which is offered twice a year. After that, students can take a six-week class — Foundations of Healthcare — through Kirkwood, where they learn interview skills, how to write a resume and clinical techniques, Weeks said.
The center partners with the Kirkwood Pathways for Academic Career Education and Employment — KPACE — which helps students access education and resources to develop skills that can lead to jobs in high-demand industries such as health care.
KPACE offers — and pays for — short-term certificate training that may take only a matter of weeks. It also offers a biweekly stipend to those pursuing one- and two-year year diploma and degree programs.
Some students dream of a medical career, while others already hold medical degrees from other countries.
“Some students are interested in the health care field because they don’t want to work in a factory anymore,” Weeks said. “Some have been doctors and nurses, but it doesn’t transfer over here. People who were working in hospitals who are now working at Whirlpool putting together refrigerators.”
Asma Showgar, for example, attended medical school in Sudan and worked in a hospital there for three years. She came to the United States five months ago and is currently working at General Mills.
Showgar, whose native language is Arabic, is working toward a nursing license.
Other students, like Caroline Leger from Haiti, have always dreamed of becoming a nurse.
“In my country, if you don’t have money, you can’t do anything,” said Leger, who speaks Haitian Creole, French and English.
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