STEUBENVILLE - Wendi Hunter had spent her career in retail management but couldn't find a job after moving to Follansbee.
"My sister worked at an assisted living facility and I got a job there. That's when I decided to go into nursing. And that is also when I heard about Project H.O.P.E. at Eastern Gateway Community College," explained Hunter.
Hunter has completed her first semester in her licensed practical nursing courses with three A's and a B.
"My plan is to complete my LPN classes and then continue on to become a registered nurse. The Project H.O.P.E. has given me an opportunity to change my career and to enter a field I have an interest in pursuing," said the 38-year-old woman.
Project H.O.P.E., or Health Profession Opportunity Grants, is a $14 million five-year grant EGCC received earlier this year from the U.S. Department of Jobs and Family Services in order to provide eligible low-income residents with the opportunity to obtain education and training for a health care job.
According to EGCC spokesperson Ann Koon, "the grant through the federal health care bill supports program growth throughout the college's service district of Columbiana, Jefferson, Mahoning and Trumbull counties.
"Eastern Gateway's grant was the only one chosen in the state of Ohio and was one of 17 awarded nationally and has three main objectives, including creating the H.O.P.E. Coalition comprised of institutions of higher education, One-Stops, Workforce Investment Act programs, career and training centers, other community support agencies, apprenticeship providers, employers and A.B.L.E. programs. We also want to create three new career pathways to be offered throughout the college's service area and to expand health care programs at the college," said Koon.
"The student coaches provide an excellent support system for us. I can pop into my coach's office at any time to discuss classes, any problems I may have attending classes and sometimes just talk. They provide me with a boatload of moral support," said Hunter.
"I am still working, taking care of my family while still going to classes. But the important thing for me is to not think about everything but to just do it. When I first started the classes I really had to question if I would be able to do the program. Now I want to have at least my LPN degree before my daughter graduates from high school," stated Hunter.
Thirty-year-old Keith Kovach of Follansbee planned to become a physical therapist while attending West Liberty State University.
"But my uncle offered me a job and the money was amazing for five years. But then I got laid off. I was collecting unemployment from Pennsylvania and they offered assistance if I went back to school. That help along with Project H.O.P.E. helped me make my decision," explained Kovach.
"My student coach, Pam Richardson, has been fantastic. She works to keep me in school and points me in the right direction. Now I am planning to become a respiratory therapist. I was able to transfer all of my credits from West Liberty and am doing amazingly well and will be graduating in May," continued Kovach.
Steve Eft, a student coach in the program, said the coaches work with the students on a face-to-face basis.
"We meet formally twice a month but we also call the students, text or e-mail them at least once a week. And they are welcome to call, text, e-mail or stop by to see us at any time," said Eft.
"We also provide help in the form of gas cards and other transportation assistance, financial help with utilities, housing, rent and vehicle repair. Or goal is to keep the students in school," added Eft.
Project H.O.P.E. Program Administrator Shari Prichard said the college "is thrilled to have the program available to the valley when many individuals are looking to go back to school due to layoffs. It is our goal to help 800 people find employment during the next three years."
"We currently have 596 students enrolled in Project H.O.P.E. throughout the four-county area and we expect to enroll an additional 500 students by the fall of 2012," commented Prichard.
Prichard said the H.O.P.E. Coalition will expand the college's course offerings to include three new career bridge pathways which can all transfer to a four-year registered nursing program, including a one-year paramedic certification, a one-year medical assistant certification and a one-year nurse's aide certification.
Individuals must have an income at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level in order to qualify for the program.
(Gossett can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)