Educating future nurses as a ticket out of poverty

FHCA Founder, Rachelle Simmons and her class gather around a patient during a hospital tour.

Sometimes, an airplane ride can change your life. Rachelle Simmons was college visiting in Baltimore with her son, and mentally noted something unique. “Usually in the inner city, on every corner you see a liquor store or a church – every corner. And there (Baltimore), on every corner there was a clinic! Or there was a hospital! Gosh, if I lived here, I would teach CNAs.”

Soon after returning home, Simmons, a veteran registered nurse, registered for a class to learn how to teach Certified Nurse Assistants, completed the necessary paperwork from the Minnesota Department of Health, and was ready to open a school to train future CNAs in the Twin Cities. When she saw an advertisement for NDC’s Plan It! Entrepreneur Training Class in the newspaper, she knew: “Oh my…this has got to be the path I’m supposed to go on!”

This is a Community Voices submission and is moderated but not edited. The opinions expressed by Community Voices contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the TC Daily Planet.

After interviewing and taking the training class with the Neighborhood Development Center (NDC) in partnership with the Northside Economic Opportunity Network (NEON), Simmons received help with branding, marketing, understanding databases, keeping financials in order and finding a location for her dream. Today, Simmons consistently teaches full classes and has had over 375 students graduate from Foundations Health Career Academy, located in St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood. Most of her students are women of color, many are mothers, and most are low-income. Simmons has a passion for her business because she knows that becoming a CNA is the key to getting into the nursing field, and that a nursing career is often a ticket out of poverty.

She believes helping to train more CNAs who are people of color will diversify the clinics and hospitals they work in, while benefitting the patients they work with. Simmons has experienced and witnessed how CNAs and nurses who share the same cultural background or speak the same language as the patients they care for is invaluable. It is her passion to recruit more, help them get jobs and make a living wage. After graduating from FHCA, 93 percent are placed into jobs with a starting hourly wage between $12-$20.

NDC has truly made the difference in Simmons’ experience as an entrepreneur. Isabel Chanslor, Director of NDC’s Business Lab, who works closely with Simmons said, “She’s very engaged, funny, hard working, and her business is just growing and growing and growing. She’s doing an incredible job, and she’s doing it all on her own, which is remarkable.”

Simmons’ business has continued to grow despite experiencing a downturn in sales in 2012 due to the light rail construction on University Avenue. However, her business was able to recover in part because of the dollars received from the City of St. Paul’s Ready for Rail Forgivable Loan program. Simmons appreciates the support from NDC. She’s currently working with NDC Business Lab: “I email and call them all the time. They’re like my lifeline.”

For more information on FHCA or to learn more about enrollment, check out www.healthcarejobsmn.com

Neighborhood Development Center is a nonprofit organization that believes in the power drive and daring of local entrepreneurs to transform lives and revitalize neighborhoods. In its 21-year history, NDC has provided business training to more than 4,500 potential entrepreneurs and nearly 500 loans totaling more than $10 million in financing. For more information: call 651-291-2480 or www.NDC-mn.org.

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