A Life-Changing Opportunity

Sometimes what it takes to succeed is the determination to create a better life and a golden opportunity. For Maria Gonzalez, CCA’s Certified Nursing Assistant Registered Apprenticeship Program (CNA RAP) was just the life-changing opportunity she needed. The CNA RAP is designed to give eligible individuals free high-quality training to become a CNA, regardless of background or prior experience. 

As a young single mom, Maria was used to taking care of others – whether it was caring for her daughter, advocating for her father’s medical needs, or watching her siblings while her parents were at work. She supported herself by working as a manager at McDonalds yet she longed to do something more fulfilling. 

“Life is too short to not take advantage of what you want to be doing,” Maria said. When she heard about the CNA RAP from a friend who worked at the nursing home facility, she knew she needed to take advantage of this opportunity. 

The CNA RAP eliminates some of the barriers that prevent many from pursuing a nursing career, one of which is access to high quality affordable education. 

“This program provides an opportunity for growth at no cost to staff who may not be able to afford [the training], but still want to advance their career,” said Krystle Gonzales, the Administrator at Diamond Ridge Healthcare Center – Sun Mar , the nursing home where Maria was hired as a Nurse Assistant prior to starting classes and was promoted to a CNA after successful completion of the training and state exam. 

Those who have completed the program are some of Diamond Ridge’s hardest-working CNAs, Krystle said. “It goes back to the fact that they’re very grateful for that opportunity and so it shows in their work that they are grateful and loyal,” she said.

Not only is the CNA RAP a free program, but it also pays trainees hours spent in class and to work as nurse assistants at the facility while attending classes. Maria was therefore able to earn wages while attending the classes, move into her own apartment and support herself and her family while she was studying to become a CNA. The program provided stipends of up to $2,100 to cover the costs of groceries, transportation, and child care while Maria worked toward her certification. 

In addition to the financial compensation, Maria also received intangible support from CCA’s Education Fund staff, her union (SEIU Local 2015) representatives, and Diamond Ridge’s staff throughout her journey. For example, whenever she felt stressed or was unsure about medical terminology or a particular lesson, she would call her assigned CCA field coordinator, who always offered support and encouragement. 

Maria was determined to succeed in her training and as a CNA. To prepare for the state exam to get her official CNA certification, Maria said she studied every day and every night. “I would fall asleep studying and I would wake up studying,” she recalled. She would watch a playlist of videos on YouTube on the procedures and skills that she learned in class and she also practiced hands-on skills in the facility with her classmates. 

“I’m going to do this, I’m going to continue doing it, I’m not going to give up,” she told herself. Maria passed the state exam on her first attempt. She was then officially promoted and started a CNA position at Diamond Ridge. 

With the urgent nursing staff shortage faced by the skilled nursing facility industry nationwide, CCA’s CNA RAP is a critical part of the solution to the staffing crisis. The strength of registered apprenticeship programs lies in the flexibility to adapt to industry requirements and specific employer needs. For the skilled nursing facilities participating in CCA’s apprenticeship program, the biggest goals are improving employee retention and reducing staff shortages and turnover.

Krystle already attests to the benefits of the program. “I have observed from the people that have graduated and joined our team that they have a very positive influence on our other staff,” she said. 

Maria is now a very motivated and dedicated CNA who immediately took a liking to the teamwork aspect at the facility. “Everyone is really nice and helps each other out,” she said. She is always looking for opportunities to improve her skills and asks for more tasks to help out around the facility. 

Maria is very content in her position as a CNA and says her colleagues and the residents she cares for are like family to her. She even enjoys coming into the facility to spend time with her residents on her days off! 

“Everybody [at the facility] tells me, ‘You inspire me,” Maria said. She motivates the other facility staff and her colleagues to take the training and achieve their goals just like she did. 

“You can’t hold yourself back on something you love, you have to do it,” she said. 

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