The room is unusually quiet. In another month, when things have settled into a routine, it will be noisy with the boisterous exchanges of these very same women who make up the latest class at the Caroline Center. But today, the first day of the new session, the women of Class Number 53 are nervous. While they wait for orientation to begin, Sr. Patricia McLaughlin, the Executive Director of Caroline Center, quietly writes the following on the blackboard:
Early is on time. On time is late. Late is unacceptable.
I don’t think it does anything to alleviate their anxiety, but it does give them something to think about. For those who will commute to the Center by the notoriously unreliable Mass Transit system, being on time is just one more hurdle to jump in this journey to a better life. Waking up on time after working all night is another. Overcoming skill gaps in math and science, skills critical to the pharmacy and nursing assistants jobs for which they will train, is still another. So, today… the women are nervous. But all around them are signs and messages of validation and affirmation, and soon those will serve to bolster their self-confidence. Greeting the women as they arrived this first morning was a display of newly minted nametags on a table in the front hall. Each woman scanned the array of tags for her own name. One of them voiced what everyone else was thinking. “What if it’s not there?” “What if it’s a mistake and I haven’t really been accepted to the program?” I watched as she finally spotted her name, breathed a sigh of relief, and proudly pinned the nametag to her new blue scrubs, the professional uniform she will wear throughout the session. I’ve been in her shoes. Waiting for acceptance or rejection. And then, having been accepted, wondering if you’ll be able to cut it. To go the distance. It never gets easy. But all around them are the signs. On the wall in the orientation room is a plaque of something called the ‘Beatitudes for Women.’
“…Happy is she who greets the world with joy, laughter, and anticipation, for she has courage…”
It took a great deal of courage indeed to apply to a program where there are 7 times more applicants than slots available. It takes a great deal of courage to work full time at night, study until the wee hours of the morning, get up at 7, take your kids to school and day care, catch the bus to the Caroline Center and put in a full day of training there until 3PM. That is the life most of the these women lead. And they will do it for the next 15 weeks. They are stronger than they know, and yet… they are nervous.
And then Yvonne Moten, a career counselor at Caroline Center, walks in and inspires trust with her very presence. She is dignified, strong, and no nonsense. She puts them in the right frame of mind from the start.
“How many of you told your kids, ‘I’m going to school today,’ ” Yvonne asked.
Nearly every woman raised her hand.
“Wrong!” Yvonne admonished. “You are going to work. You are professionals.” And she reminds the women that out of over 300 applicants, only 59 of them were accepted.
“What does that tell you about yourself?” she asks them. And then she told them.
“You are the chosen few.” Slowly the anxiety drains from the faces of the women and is replaced with – if not confidence – a certain relief and relaxation.
“You did it.” Yvonne continued. “And you gotta keep doing it for you.”
It will not be easy. Like any difficult course, some may not make it to the finish line. But it will not be for lack of support. There will be plenty of that: moral, programmatic, spiritual, and sisterly support. The women will get it from the staff and volunteers. And they’ll get it from each other.
“Mother Caroline believed that if you educate a woman, you educate society. You stand on her shoulders and the shoulders of all the women who came before you here at Caroline Center.” And then, perhaps because no one ever told them before and because they can never hear it too often, she added,
“We love you. And we believe in you.”
Note: Visit The Breakroom often for more inspiring stories of the women of Caroline Center. Find out what they’re learning, what challenges they face, and what keeps them going. We’ll publish a new story every other week. And please, send us your comments and suggestions. We’d love to hear from you.