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Growing up in foster care in Rhode Island, Timothy Walker says he always observed the loving, compassionate relationship between people and their pets, and wondered if he would ever be able to share such a bond with an animal. As a student in Crossroads’ Animal Caretaker Training course, not only did Timothy get to experience this bond for himself, he also gained valuable skills and knowledge to help him find a career caring for animals.
Timothy came to Crossroads when despite all his best efforts, he was faced with multiple personal and professional setbacks and was unable to make ends meet. “I knew nothing of Crossroads until I had an unfortunate situation,” he said. “It’s not easy to have to keep starting over.”
In order to help him start over one last, successful time, Crossroads was able to offer Timothy a room in our Housing Tower. When he learned about the Animal Caretaker Training program, he was anxious to enroll and begin learning new job skills in an area that interested him.
During his training, Timothy worked as an intern at the Exeter Animal Shelter, where he practiced what he learned at Crossroads, developed an even greater love for animals, and learned that they had something to offer him, too.
“It made me feel good to know that someone was looking forward to seeing me,” he said. “Whenever I left, I couldn’t wait to come back the next day. I got learning experience, and at the same time it gave me a boost to my self-esteem.”
By the end of his internship, Timothy knew the animals in the shelter by name, and how to work with each of their unique temperaments. On a regular basis, he cared for terrified kittens, an older dog with eye problems and hearing loss, and animals with incurable diseases.
“It was quite challenging,” he said. “I had to remember to never get to the point of being aggressive and always be patient.”
Now that Timothy’s internship is over and he has successfully completed Crossroads’ Animal Caretaker Training, he plans to continue volunteering at the Exeter Animal Shelter while he searches for a job in the animal care field.
He is still living at Crossroads, but with his training completed and his passion for animals kindled, Timothy is one large step closer to achieving his dream – having his own residence where he can entertain friends. He is also interested in writing an autobiography to share his experience.
“When I move on to bigger and better things, I want to leave behind that I appreciate what I was able to do here,” he said of his time at Crossroads. “I am determined to do something positive with my life.” We certainly think he is already having a positive impact on the community and those around him.
Crossroads is pleased to congratulate Timothy and the rest of the Animal Caretaker Training program students and graduates on their successes!
Written by Crossroads Staff Member Betty Johnson-Simons
Recently I visited students in Crossroads’ new Non-Farm Animal Caretaker Training Program. They were celebrating the successful completion of the classroom component of the first training and looking forward to the next step—internships at seven animal shelter programs across the state. Every student was full of praise for the program and the instructor, Michelle Cantini, who brings years of animal care experience, knowledge of the field and a lot of enthusiasm to the program.
The training prepares students for careers working with companion animals in shelters, veterinary clinics, pet supply store, kenneling or pet day care programs. Students achieve certification in animal first aid and CPR, learn basic animal care techniques involved in grooming, routine health care, feeding, kennel management and obedience training. They participate in frequent field trips to animal shelters where they observe and learn from professional animal caretakers. After completing the class work, students advance to internships that include hands-on work experience at several animal shelters across the state.
There was no doubt that every student in the class was inspired by a love for animals and was determined to pursue a career that offers many opportunities for further education and advancement. Tony, one of the students, says he highly recommends the program for anyone who loves animals, and that applies to every student in the class. Red, another student, praised the instructor and said that she has motivated them to work hard and pursue their dreams of working in a field they love. Jodi, another student, said that she had never met a more patient teacher.
For these enthusiastic students, the Animal Caretaker Program is a dream come true. Most of these animal lovers are struggling with unemployment, homelessness and poverty, and over and over they said how grateful they are for the opportunity to train for work as animal caretakers. One student said, “We just want to thank Crossroads for offering this class, and we know that there are many more people here waiting for a chance to enroll.” Another student, Ron Dogg, says that he used to work with animals when he lived in Texas. “Now that I will have animal first aid and CPR certification, I know that I will be able to get a good job doing what I love most—helping animals.” Ron really wants to go back to Texas someday and feels confident that he will be successful there.
The day I visited the class, Dave Holden from the Providence Animal Shelter and Tammy Mello, a Warwick police officer, were there to talk to the students about ways they handle animal cruelty complaints. Dave and Tammy had brought along an adorable puppy from the Providence Shelter, and the students were showering the little guy with a lot of attention and affection. It was easy to see that these students love what they are doing and are eager to learn more.
This program helps Crossroads’ low-income and homeless students build on their experiences and talents and love for companion animals to forge a better future for themselves. The animal caretaker field has many opportunities for employment at all levels, and there are many certificate programs to help practitioners advance in their careers. Both the students and the companion animals they care for will benefit from this innovative program.
As the newest instructor in our Employment and Education Services department, Dennis Owens has already seen the positive impact that education and job training has on people who are working to improve - or in some cases, rebuild - their lives.
His very first class of Janitorial Training students included some ambitious individuals who achieved tremendously positive outcomes. As a direct result of the Janitorial Training program, three students secured employment in the janitorial field, and one student went on to another training program.
“They came to me very motivated,” Dennis said of his students. “They come ready and willing to learn, and seem committed to changing their lives. They really invested in it. Everything I asked them to do, they did it.”
The Janitorial Training program is just one of the job-training classes offered at Crossroads. The class teaches students janitorial skills from the simple to the complex. By the end of the eight-week program, successful students receive four different certifications which make them qualified and desirable candidates for jobs in the janitorial field: OSHA 10 Safety Certification, Green Cleaning Certification, Blood-Born Pathogen Certification, and Mold Remediation Certification.
In addition to 12 hours a week of in-class instruction, Janitorial Training students are required to complete a 40 hour internship in the field, and about three hours of homework every week. They work with Dennis and other Crossroads staff members to learn how to conduct job searches specifically geared to the janitorial field.
Dennis is uniquely qualified for his position as Janitorial Training Program Instructor. With experience as a business owner in environmental services, he worked in the community at places like Johnson and Wales University and Roger Williams Medical Center conducting training in environmental services. Eventually, he decided to go back to school himself and earned his Master’s degree in Adult Education. Dennis came out of retirement to take on the position of Janitorial Training Program Instructor at Crossroads.
Dennis recently welcomed 15 new students into his classroom for his second class. He feels confident that his new students will value the class as much and work as hard as his first students. In the near future, he hopes to grow the program by developing more hands-on training and offering job-shadowing opportunities to his students.
We are pleased and very grateful to announce that Crossroads Rhode Island has been granted a Governor's Workforce Board Innovation award. The award was given to 16 agencies that provide job training to help Rhode Islanders get back to work.
This grant will enable us to train 40 low-income or homeless adults to become certified nursing assistants (CNAs)!
Our CNA training program has graduated 107 classes of individuals. Our graduates are prepared to enter the workforce with the proper training and experience necessary to begin their careers.
We recently had a chance to catch up with Yakellin Garcia, a CNA graduate from our 81st class.
Yakellin graduated from the CNA program in the fall of 2011. She visited Crossroads recently as a Career Day recruiter on behalf of her employer, Cherry Hill Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. Yakellin remembers her time as a CNA student at Crossroads as both challenging and encouraging.
"The class was a little challenging because there was a lot to memorize and take in...my teachers and instructors had so much faith in me, so I didn't give up," she said.
Yakellin has been a CNA at Cherry Hill for three years. She specializes in caring for long term patients, and is not only the lead CNA on her floor, but was also named CNA of the Year there. She also has an active role on Cherry Hill's Retention and Recruitment Committee.
Yakellin is passionate about her role, and encourages people thinking about pursuing a career as a CNA, as long as they are passionate about it as well.
"Don't just do it for the money, do it because you really care," she says. "A lot of patients will depend on you."
In the future, Yakellin plans to continue her education and pursue a career in Criminal Justice.
"No obstacles that I've faced stopped me from getting to where I wanted to be, and I'm not done yet," she said.
If you would like more information on the CNA Training program and other Education and Employment Services at Crossroads, visit our website.
Tina was devastated when she became homeless for the first time in her life in 2012. She had been gainfully employed as an electrician for 15 years, and always managed to make ends meet for herself and her son.
When she was no longer able to find work, she started staying with a friend to help ease her financial burden. However, this was against the terms of her friend’s lease, and she soon found herself sleeping under a bridge.
By this time, Tina’s son was a young adult who was able to safely and comfortably stay with friends. But Tina still had another being to care for: a 7-year-old Bischon Frise named Tippy. Tina had adopted Tippy as a puppy, and he had never known another owner. The two were rarely apart, and their strong bond was evident to everyone who met them.
Tippy was able to stay with a friend while Tina was spending her nights under a bridge, but even in her desperate situation, she visited and cared for him every day. Because of her strong bond with her dog, Tina was reluctant to seek help and enter the shelter system. She knew that she would not be able to take Tippy with her, and she was worried that she would not be able to see him consistently or even worse, have to give him up for good. Additionally, Tina said that it seemed that many programs she had contacted prioritized helping people with alcohol or drug dependency, which Tina did not suffer from.
Tina’s son heard from friends about Crossroads and the Animal Caretaker Program, which is designed to help clients learn to work with animals and gain volunteer experience which might help them secure a job. He encouraged Tina to come to Crossroads for help, and talk with Crossroads employee Michelle Cantini, who runs the Animal Caretaker Program. Through his friends, he had heard that Michelle would do everything she could to prevent a loving, responsible pet owner from being separated from her cherished pet. This was enough to convince Tina to come to Crossroads for help, and Michelle did not disappoint.
Tina entered Operation First-Step, a program specifically for those new to homelessness. The program includes intensive case management with the goal of getting the client into stable housing as quickly as possible.
In the meantime, Michelle allowed Tippy to stay in her classroom so that Tina could see him and spend time with him every day. Michelle also drove Tippy to and from veterinarian appointments, getting him all of the shots and medical care he had missed out on, as well as getting him groomed and neutered with the help of the Providence Animal Rescue League. Because Crossroads does not officially provide support for animals, Tippy’s supplies and transportation costs often came out of Michelle’s pocket.
After he had recovered from his neutering surgery, Michelle and Tina agreed that it was time to find a foster home for Tippy so that he could be more comfortable than he was in the classroom, and so that Tina could rest assured that he was safe, loved, and adequately cared for while she worked with Crossroads to get back on her feet.
Tippy is now being fostered by a Crossroads employee, who brings him to visit with Tina once a week. Their bond is as strong as ever, and Tina is looking forward to being permanently reunited with him when she gets a new place of her own.
Our hope is to someday have a safe and respectful place where people and their pets can stay together. In the meantime, Michelle will continue doing what she does at Crossroads...and you can help. Please consider donating to our Animal Caretaker Training Program today.
Like her colleagues at Crossroads, Michele is passionate about social justice issues and working with disadvantaged and challenged people. ‘’Most of my students have had hard lives,” Michele says, “and I want to open their eyes to new opportunities and possibilities.” Michele works to inspire students to do their very best and make them proud that they are learning one of the most important jobs in a health care facility. “I show students that I have done all the same tasks that they are learning, and still do them when necessary.”
Michele says that the students at Crossroads deserve a lot of credit for their efforts to overcome obstacles and succeed in the C.N.A. program. “They want jobs, not welfare, and I help them move on with their lives.” She reminds the students that she knows from her own experience how hard it is to juggle jobs, school, homework, child care and still get to class on time. “This past winter has been horrible, and students had to find a way to get to class on time. A lot of them don’t have their own transportation, and those that do have to contend with older vehicles, bald tires and no place to park when the streets are covered with snow.”
Michele acknowledges that many of her students have struggled in school and teachers did not expect them to succeed. She loves cheering on her students, urging them to stay focused. “The nurse assistant training represents a way out of poverty and provides students with the foundation to pursue higher-level health care training, such as nursing or medical technician. At Elmhurst Extended Care, where students receive clinical training, they have opportunities to meet and work with former C.N.A. professionals who have advanced to higher positions with better pay.”
At this time, Michele is working hard to help students achieve a higher pass rate for state C.N.A. licensing exam. She would also like to see the nursing assistant training expand to include home care clinical training as well as the current nursing home experience. And, she would like to make it easier for Crossroads residents in North Kingstown to participate in the C.N.A. training by expanding the programming to that site.
When we asked Michele what would help right now, she said that some of the equipment is getting old, like the mannequin, which is stiff and hard to manipulate, the hospital bed that is hard to move up and down, and the program really needs a professional doctor’s scale with weights. Also, students always need watches for their clinical training. Michele has managed to get a lot of donated uniforms from her friends in the nursing profession so the Crossroads’ students don’t have to worry about finding money to buy them. She would really love to get some donated watches, the scale, and a better mannequin and hospital bed.
Crossroads is lucky to have dedicated professionals like Michele that work very hard to help our clients succeed in their journey out of homelessness and poverty. It is obvious that Michele loves her work here at Crossroads Rhode Island.
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