It’s often said that when the national economy catches a cold, communities of color catch pneumonia. The global recession hit minorities extremely hard with some communities still functioning in recovery mode.
At the height of the recession, Hispanic joblessness peaked at 13.1 percent in late 2010. Among those searching for work at the time was former truck driver Rolando Calderón.
Calderón moved his family to Montgomery, Pa., in search of opportunity but couldn’t find full-time work. Local companies only offered part-time or temporary jobs. Calderón took on whatever work he could to support his wife and three daughters, including dishwasher, warehouse worker and parts inspector.
Along with his small paycheck, the family of five survived on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and food stamps. As if things couldn't get any worse, Calderón was hospitalized with a serious medical condition.
Some would say his trip to the hospital was just another moment of bad luck, but for Calderón it may have been fate. During his stay, he got to see firsthand the admirable work of nurses — an occupation he decided to pursue once he left the hospital.
Calderón spent weeks preparing to get back into school after 20 years. From obtaining transcripts, taking entrance exams, getting a physical to updating his immunizations, the 41 year old was determined to go to college.
His hard work paid off. He was admitted to college and his first year saw him earn a spot on the Dean’s List. Although personal challenges made it difficult, he still managed to complete his prerequisites and got accepted into the Pennsylvania College of Technology’s Licensed Practical Nurse program.
Reality once again hit hard as tuition was an extreme barrier that Calderón couldn’t overtake alone. But all that changed once he learned about a special program provided by the Administration for Children and Families’ Office of Family Assistance.
At the Administration for Children and Families, we work hard to promote the economic and social well-being of families, children, individuals and communities through our 60-plus human services programs. Our services touch the lives of millions of Americans — from early childhood development, child welfare, community development to financial assistance to families — like the TANF benefits received by the Calderón family.
Because of our agency’s connection to America’s most vulnerable populations, the Office of Family Assistance was empowered through the Affordable Care Act to provide education and training to TANF recipients and other low-income individuals for occupations in the health care field that pay well and are expected to either experience labor shortages or be in high demand through Health Profession Opportunity Grants (HPOG).
George H. Sheldon, acting assistant secretary for Children and Families said, “HPOG is an innovative program that is responsive to community workforce needs and improves job prospects for adults in low-income families, matching careers in a growing field with people who are eager to fill them.”
HPOG-funded organizations work with state and local partners to connect Americans on TANF, and other low income people, with education and training in more than 50 unique occupations, including:
Calderón enlisted in Pennsylvania’s WATCH Project, which not only provided him financial assistance and counseling but uniforms and shoes for work — items Calderón could not afford on his own.
The WATCH Project, part of the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit HPOG program, is one of 32 locations throughout the United States that offers HPOG.
“I really don’t think I would be where I am today. I am a college graduate as well as a Licensed Practical Nurse,” said Calderón.
Calderón is no longer dependent on TANF benefits, because he obtained not one — but two jobs — after graduating: a part-time position with a nursing home and a full-time position with a local hospital.
“I am in a career that is in high demand that also pays well,” said Calderón. “I now have a chance for a better quality of life for me and my children.”
Calderón’s professional career may have taken off, but he isn’t quite done with his academic career. He plans to continue on to become a Registered Nurse.
“Since 2010 more than 20,000 participants have enrolled in the program. Of those, 39 percent identified themselves as African American and 15 percent identified themselves as Hispanic or Latino,” said Earl Johnson, director of the Office of Family Assistance. “More than 8,000 individuals have either obtained employment or progressed to better employment in health care.”