by Carol Cowdrey
Special to The Leaven
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — “I climbed the ladder!”
Donna diligently worked for many years as a certified nursing assistant (CNA). Although she loved providing direct care to patients, the daily activities of the job were taking a toll on her physically. She dreamed of becoming a certified medication technician (CMT), but her busy work schedule, financial worries and uneasiness about returning to a classroom prevented her from moving forward.
After her husband learned about a partnership between a training center and Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas’ St. Rita Workforce Program, her outlook changed. Donna found the financial assistance and support necessary to help her successfully earn her CMT certification.
Donna is one of 78 St. Rita participants who earned credentials this past fiscal year. The program has changed significantly since its pilot launch in 2015. Initially, the focus was to remove all barriers preventing adult participants from achieving their educational and sustainable employment goals.
“We set out to take care of everything, including assistance with tuition, child care, transportation, meals and more so that participants could solely focus on their education,” explained Amelia Reyes, chief program officer. “What we discovered was that approach was one-sided, and we needed a buy-in from the participants. Without accountability, the likelihood of success decreased.”
The pandemic provided an opportunity to revamp the St. Rita model; build and strengthen relationships with trade schools, training centers and health care agencies; and identify resources for tuition assistance and online soft-skills training.
“We redefined what our role should be, which is to guide, support and empower people throughout the education and employment process,” added Reyes.
Committed to making a greater impact, Catholic Charities placed a St. Rita Workforce specialist in every Family Support Center. The program changed to a rolling enrollment, reducing the completion timeline from 18 months to 12 months or less.
In addition, an application process was implemented to screen for potential engagement.
“We want participants who want to change their lives for the better,” said Rachel Sevart, Workforce development manager. “We recognize that sometimes more stability is needed before education goals can be pursued.”
To qualify, clients must commit to monthly meetings with a St. Rita case manager.
“We discuss budgeting, gauge how they are balancing school with other responsibilities and determine whether they need any other support,” said Sevart, adding that participants can access Catholic Charities’ other programs, including weekly food pantry visits.
That coaching continues for 90 days post-hire to help ensure success.
“Through St. Rita, we’re creating a self-sustaining foundation for our clients,” said Rick McKenna, Workforce development director, “so they not only meet the job requirements, but have the life skills to be gainfully employed.”
individuals boosted their job skills and advanced their education
graduates attained their academic or certification credentials
Average starting wage of $21.08 for full-time employment
Program focus on skilled trades, health care, IT or life sciences field
St. Rita Workforce Program Stats
(July 1, 2022 – June 30, 2023)