Brenda with her son Liam.
Brenda, now 24, came to the U.S. from El Salvador when she was just eight years old. Her family initially settled in Alaska, and her first year was difficult: it wasn’t easy for her to learn English, and she only knew two other Spanish-speaking kids.
In 2018, Brenda settled in Lowell, MA with her infant son, Liam. She knew that she wanted to work in a medical field, and she had a high school equivalency diploma, but was unsure how to proceed. “I felt clueless when I started: I didn’t know what I was doing or how I was going to do it, or what I was going to need,” she recalls.
Youth Goal at IINE
It was while exploring educational opportunities that Brenda found Youth Goal, an IINE program for 16-24 year-olds who are out of school or looking for a skills certificate program. Youth Goal teaches participants financial literacy, guides them in career exploration, and provides them with case management to support them in reaching their goals.
Brenda attended a Youth Goal session (remote due to COVID) where she received information about potential careers, and had a one-to-one consultation with an IINE case worker who asked her about her goals and developed a plan with her.
“None of my immediate family has ever gone to college,” Brenda says, “So I didn’t know anything about tuition, or FAFSA, or any of that, so I asked a lot of those questions. They walk you through everything. The staff is really good about answering your questions.” She adds, “They’re always there pushing you and making sure you get what you need to succeed.”
Youth Goal helped Brenda gain confidence, and she soon was offered a paid internship in the program, helping other young immigrants learn English. By working with her peers, Brenda is able to better appreciate what she has achieved. “Being an intern and working with people who are where I used to be feels good, because it’s people that want to do better. It’s people that are really interested and really trying to better themselves, so it makes you feel good.”
Becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant
Brenda as a child in El Salvador.
In April 2021, Brenda joined the CNA for Success program at IINE. This program prepares participants to start a career as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), at a high-demand point of entry in health care, offering specialized support for English language learners. It includes both certification preparation and clinical training and includes a 100-hour CNA module within its curriculum conducted by instructors from Middlesex Community College. Brenda is already fluent in English, but IINE’s CNA program was an important first step for her toward a career in nursing.
Brenda’s classes include test prep for certification, as well as hands-on work, both in real medical settings and in the classroom.
Optimism about the future
Brenda is hoping to continue her education and become a nurse, ideally working with babies and children. In the meantime, Liam is now three years old and already benefiting from his mother’s example: “He sees that I go to school now, and he’s crazy to go to school. He’s always like, can I go to school yet, I want to go to school, I want a backpack too. It makes me happy to see that even at such a young age, I inspire and encourage him to think of school as a good thing.”