IU13 Community Education students have always been recognized for their perseverance in learning while juggling work and home responsibilities. Today we thank them for their dedicated service during the Covid-19 pandemic--employment that is essential, whether in health care, manufacturing, or grocery stores and volunteer efforts. These students work full time or part-time, home school their children, and take care of family members while still joining Zoom classes and participating in teacher-directed online learning.
The work our learners are doing puts them at risk, yet their overwhelming response to their source of motivation is “I love to help people.” Ashley is a Certified Nurse’s Assistant (CNA) at a local nursing home. She says, “Seeing my residents smile and how happy they are to see me makes my day. Especially now that they don’t have their families around, it’s really important that we are able to fulfill that need.” Also a CNA, Cathy echoes her former classmate’s reflection: “Everything I do is a daily blessing in helping someone, whether they are actively dying or diagnosed with a terminal disease and not coping well.”
Another student, Carla, an aide with Hospice, describes a range of emotions when working during this pandemic: “I was afraid for my life and I was afraid for the patients, but we went through it together. They were holding my hands, praying for me, praying for all of us, and thanking me every single day that I was there for them. Every time I opened the doors to the room, they would say, ‘Thank you for coming.’ That was the best part of all the chaos--when they were holding my hands.”
Buntha works for a large manufacturing company and described in detail how the company has implemented in-depth procedures to lower the risk of infection: “Before working we need to have our temperature taken, and while working we have to wear a mask and we need to apply social distance all the time. We cannot talk to each other because we cannot be close to each other. We need to clean all materials before working and the break room as well (clean tables and chairs) and we need to wash our hands very often. We need to be cautious so we feel the pressure.” Buntha’s motivation for working is the necessity to provide for his family and to save money for his future education as a paralegal. Another student reports working to support her family members--six in her home in addition to a family member in Haiti who all rely on her paycheck.
Many of our students comment on the emotional toll of working in healthcare. “When I see the resident cry because they miss their family, I feel so bad.” “When I lose a resident and no family member is there, that’s the toughest.” “It hurts and I cry because we are short-staffed.” “It’s terrifying. We have our own COVID team and even just having a COVID team it was still terrifying. And bringing it home to our family. Nerve-wracking every day.”
Another describes the intense discomfort of wearing personal protective equipment (PPE): “I have to wear a face shield, a mask, gloves, and a gown. It is very hard and hot to work while wearing PPE. Sometimes I feel like I can’t breathe under all the PPE. I have to put on a second gown when I enter the kitchen area, and I have to take everything off when I go to the break room. I completely change the PPE every two hours.”
Marie, a CNA, was asked by her friends, “Why don’t you just stay home? Why do you take the risk to yourself and your family?” Her response is that it is her job to help sick people: “That is what I was meant to do. I need to keep going because people need the help. Sometimes I feel like giving up. But it is a problem if everybody gives up. I need to stay. I made many sacrifices to go to English classes and to do CNA training. I worked hard to get this job, and now the job is very hard.”
In addition to paid employment, students are giving of their time to help their neighbors. Luiz volunteers for a program that refurbishes donated computers and then distributes them to immigrants and refugees who are unable to afford the devices. He says, “Especially now it is really important to give them an opportunity to connect. Most of them need a computer in order to find a job, take online classes, and learn English. I am happy to help.”
Anabel, currently unemployed due to Covid-19, spends her free time making face masks and distributing them to healthcare workers, the elderly, and the homeless, among others. “This is something I had to do,” she explains.
Community Education current and former students’ desire to serve their community contributes to their perseverance in the workplace and at home and for that, we applaud them.