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Friday, August 4, 2023

‘A Promising Future Awaits Me:’ New Healthcare Bridge ESOL Program Catalyzes Healthcare Careers for ESOL Students

“This is a place of opportunity. If we have focus and determination, we can achieve everything we want,” said Patricia Fernandez, one of 15 students enrolled in Catholic Charities Boston’s new Healthcare Bridge ESOL program.

The program, which launched in early July, is designed to help students who have an intermediate understanding of English develop a strong foundation of English, math, digital literacy, and systems navigation skills, with the goal of helping them to secure sustainable, fulfilling jobs in the healthcare field.

Having immigrated from Cape Verde a year and a half ago, Fernandez said that she has been eager to begin a meaningful career in the U.S. that will allow her to provide for her family, as well as grow professionally and personally.

As for many immigrants, however, the challenge of learning English is a sometimes-daunting obstacle that Fernandez must first address to achieve her dreams.

Catholic Charities Boston’s Healthcare Bridge ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) program is a practical solution to this dilemma. Antonio De Sousa Lobo, Director of Workforce Development at Catholic Charities Boston, said that the Healthcare Bridge ESOL program also addresses the critical demand for health care workers that hospitals across the nation are experiencing.

“When we were creating this program, we spoke to staff in the hiring departments of Boston hospitals and asked them what they were looking for in the healthcare workers they hired,” said Antonio. “Does this person speak strong English? Do they have high-quality tech skills? Can they operate in a fast-paced acute care environment?”

Working with Jacqueline Chernoble, Vice President of Adult Education and Workforce Development, Antonio said these questions inspired them to create an innovative classroom model that would set up students learning English for success in the healthcare field.

As an online evening class offered three days a week for approximately six months, the course format is designed to accommodate students’ busy schedules. Upon completion, students work with Antonio and course instructors on identifying their next steps, whether it be enrolling in Catholic Charities Boston’s Nursing Assistant/Home Health Aide Training program, applying to college, or beginning their search for a job in the healthcare field.

“The course is just the beginning of a more thorough guided system with the ultimate objective of placing the students in a job in the healthcare industry with the opportunity to grow and thrive,” said Antonio.

The concept has resulted in Catholic Charities Boston being one of nine finalists for the Catholic Charities USA Innovation Challenge Grant, in which affiliate agencies across the nation are challenged to develop an innovative solution to a workforce development challenge, with the potential of winning up to $633,000. Representatives from each agency will have the opportunity to pitch their projects during CCUSA’s Annual Gathering in Cleveland in October, when three agencies will be selected as grant recipients.

“Funding from CCUSA would enable us to scale this model to serve more students locally as well as share with other organizations to adopt nationally and play a part in Catholic Charities vision of creating a more just, equitable, and compassionate society,” said Jacqueline.

The open-entry format of the course allows students to enroll at any time. While skill level and English proficiency of students vary, what connects each student in the class is a deep and unshakeable determination to learn English and rise to their full potential.

“I know that a promising future full of accomplishments awaits me,” said Fernandez.

To apply for the ESOL Healthcare Bridge class, click here. To learn more about the CCUSA Innovation Challenge, click here.

The Healthcare Bride ESOL Program is funded by the Good Jobs Challenge through the MassHire Boston Workforce Board (Boston Private Industry Council) and a Senator Kenneth J. Donnelly Workforce Success Grant (Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund FY’21 Appropriation) through the Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development and is administered by Commonwealth Corporation.

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