In some ways, Wendi’s story is a familiar one. Like many of her Caroline Center colleagues, she had adult responsibility thrust upon her while still a child. Her father left home when Wendi was just 14 years old, leaving Wendi and her mother to fend for themselves. To help out, Wendi went to work at a McDonald’s. She was good at it and after a while became a manager. She stayed there for 4 years before taking a job as an assistant manager at a Target. By age 19 she was living on her own. She is not afraid of work; she has already worked more than half her life. But now, at 29, she wants something “more fulfilling.” She would like to be a nurse one day and work in a hospital setting. She is a high school graduate but knows nursing will require many more years of training and study. And that is why she enrolled in the Caroline Center Certified Nursing Assistant Program (CNA). Other members of her family had been through the program and swore by it. Wendi knew it was a good place to start. That is not to say it would be easy. Like so many others in the program, she had to juggle work and school. To accommodate the Caroline Center schedule, Wendi took the night shift at a place called Retail Rose’s. During the course, she usually got home around 11:30 PM and studied until 1 AM. She was up by 6:30, out the door by 8, and at Caroline Center by 8:30 or 9 where she trained until 3PM. That gave her precisely one half hour to get to work and do it all over again. With so little time between work and training, she worried about studying enough. Throughout the course, Wendi grappled with anatomy, particularly the workings of the heart. She needed a more dimensional visual aid than her book provided. One day she had the clever idea of making a clay model of the heart, with all its chambers and valves. It helped her immensely and became the key to her success in anatomy. Still, there was one other thing that made the 15-week course particularly difficult for Wendi.
“The hardest part of the whole thing is being away from my daughter, Keisha*,” Wendi confided halfway through the course. And therein lies the twist that makes Wendi’s story a little different. You see, Wendi did not give birth to Keisha, but she did raise her as her own ever since Keisha was a baby. Today, Keisha is 7.
“I met Keisha’s mother at a card game,” Wendi admitted. “One day she dropped her off at my place and never came back.” To Wendi, it is just that simple.
“I’m her mother. And she’s my beautiful baby,” soft-spoken Wendi stated quietly, not defiantly. The love she has for Keisha is palpable. The same quiet but steady love and care that Wendi showed to her own mother so many years ago and now has for Keisha, Wendi also put into her studies. By the end of the course, her steadfastness had paid off. Wendi was one of only 6 graduates from the 53rd class of Caroline Center to be awarded the coveted opportunity to participate in a post-graduate practicum at St. Agnes Hospital. And so, for four additional weeks, Wendi will continue her education in patient care in a hospital setting. It is a partnership Caroline Center has worked hard to cultivate and one that is mutually beneficial. St. Agnes knows from experience that the Caroline Center grads they offer the practicum to will be well worth the investment. So far, all of the Caroline Center women who continued on with St. Agnes were offered jobs at the hospital. So there is more than a very good chance that Wendi will be offered one also. After that, for Wendi, hopefully nursing school. I think she would make a very good nurse. She certainly has the heart for it. And just to be clear, while the key to getting through the anatomy course for Wendi may have been her heart of clay, my guess is the key to her success in life will be her heart of gold.
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* Wendi’s daughter’s name has been changed to protect the child’s privacy.