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Training opens doors to health care careers

Kaiser Permanente grant supports no-cost, 12-week Certified Nursing Assistant training. Pictured left, Rakiesha Barnes practices weighing a patient.

Rakiesha Barnes is a natural when it comes to caregiving.

The 32-year-old mother of 3 was just 14 when she began caring for her mom who had serious complications from type 2 diabetes. Last year, when Barnes learned of Opportunity Junction’s no-cost Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) training, her mom suggested she make a career of caregiving. Barnes gave it a try.

“My mom was the main reason I went to school to be a CNA,” Barnes said. “Now, when I go to work, I think, ‘Treat them like you would want your mom to be treated.’”

Opportunity Junction, a Bay Area nonprofit, provides no-cost job training and support services to help unemployed and underemployed Contra Costa County residents secure good jobs. In 2023, Kaiser Permanente provided a 20-month, $150,000 grant to support the organization’s CNA and Administrative Careers training programs. The grant was part of $1.3 million in grants awarded by Kaiser Permanente to workforce programs in Northern California last year.

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CNA students get hands-on skills training and supervised clinical training at skilled nursing facilities.

“We’re pleased to support Opportunity Junction because we know that economic security is foundational to good health, helping people to afford the essentials they need to be healthy, such as nutritious food and stable housing,” said Yvette Radford, vice president, Kaiser Permanente Northern California External and Community Affairs.  

Help with food, transportation, and more

Opportunity Junction partners with Mt. Diablo Adult Education and the nonprofit Empowered Aging to offer the 12-week CNA training. Students receive classroom and hands-on clinical experience in skilled nursing facilities with licensed instructors. Program participants also receive free hot lunches, weekly grocery supplies from the local food bank, job placement assistance, and much more.

“We want to make sure that everyone who wants to participate in our programs can,” said Brianna Robinson, president and CEO for Opportunity Junction. “We help them with practical things, everything from bus passes and groceries to the closed-toed shoes you need to complete training in a nursing facility.”

Robinson said roughly half of the students in the CNA training are young, 18 to 26, new to health care, and many have had bad educational experiences elsewhere.

“We’ve had so many folks say to us, ‘I didn’t think I was a good student.’ But this program shows them they are. Our students leave believing in themselves.”

Since launching in 2019, the CNA training has seen 233 graduates from its 2 locations in Concord and Antioch. Of those graduates, 215 passed their CNA licensing exam. The average starting wage for program participants is $23.78 per hour. About 9% of graduates have continued their education. In addition to filling the critical need for CNAs, some graduates are working as activity directors, medication techs, and licensed vocational or registered nurses.

‘You can do it’

Rakiesha Barnes pushed herself to complete the CNA program last December, in part because she wanted to show her kids, “If you want to go for something, you can do it.”

She was working overnight shifts at a warehouse and going to class during the day. Then 5 days after her graduation, her mom passed away. Barnes took a break from job hunting, but not for long.

“My mom kept telling me in my dreams, ‘You can’t sit there. There are people like me who need people like you.’”

Today, Barnes said she is working happily as a CNA at the skilled nursing facility in Antioch where she did her clinical training. She said she’ll pursue training to become a vocational nurse sometime next year.

 “This is the start for me. I’m going to do what I love to do, which is taking care of others.”

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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. I’m very grateful for Opportunity Junction. I first heard of OJ from a friend in 2016 or 2017.
    I enjoy seeing and reading how successful the participants become after completing the training.
    OJ reminds me of a program I was privileged to be a part of in San Francisco in the 1980s called “Private Industry Council” (PIC). PIC was implemented under Mayor Diane Feinstein. I was afforded opportunities to sign up with PIC to seek employment through their referral program. I maintained an acceptable grade point level and was allowed to attend school 4 hours and work part time 4 hours. The program was the best opportunity that could happen to the hardest hit communities in San Francisco. I love OJ for all that you do!

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