If you ask 18-year-old Wendy de Leon Hernandez about her experience in the Youth Works program, she’ll easily answer, “If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know where I would be.”
Now enrolled at Central Piedmont Community College, Hernandez, a “deferred action” youth from Mexico, has faced obstacles, yet remained focused to achieve her goal of becoming an emergency room nurse.
“At that point, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do other than being in the medical field,” says Melissa Verea, MeckEd director of career pathways and Hernandez’s former career pathways advisor.
Rotating internships in departments including processing, OB/GYN and the emergency room (ER) at Carolinas Healthcare System helped narrow her career choice.
“The ER was incredible because when you’re in the waiting room you have no idea what happens behind those doors. It’s a totally different experience once you’re in there,” says Hernandez. “You have to have a tough stomach and I wanted to be there.”
Remembering her own health issues and visits to the emergency room also played a role in her passion for nursing; Hernandez has heart problems and suffers from chronic migraines. Sometimes the medications aren’t enough, and she’s been checked into the ER. “I feel like since I’ve been through it, I can help other people, which is what I like to do. And, I find medical science very interesting,” she explains.
When Hernandez graduated high school in June, rather than enjoying a summer break before starting college courses in the fall, she enrolled at Divine Health Academy to complete her training as a certified nursing assistant (CNA). She also juggled part-time work at a frozen yogurt shop. However, she encountered challenges due to her resident status. “I struggled [keeping] jobs because when my work permit expired, they had to let me go,” she says.
It wasn’t much easier on the academic front.
“I tried to apply for financial aid at CPCC, and they said I couldn’t because I wasn’t born here,” Hernandez explains. “So I said I’d start off small because I didn’t have the money, and later on I can apply for citizenship (I have four years left). Then if I want to go back for my bachelor’s [degree], I’ll be able to get financial aid. It’s hard, but you have to find your way around it.”
Verea has been impressed with the teen’s go-getter attitude. “Despite the obstacles, she has never said that she’s giving up or can’t do something. Her attitude and willingness to do anything to survive has made her a success story,” notes Verea.
In return, Hernandez is grateful for the continued support of the Youth Works program. In January, she’ll begin training as an emergency medical technician (EMT) at CPCC. Youth Works funds will help pay for the training, just as they did her CNA training and certification and college courses.
“As a teen who’s about to [age out of] being a teen, I feel like I’m too young to have everything together, but too old to not have anything together, and they’re helping me figure it out,” she says.
Hernandez’s experience has been inspiring to her family and peers. She’s been instrumental in getting her younger sister, boyfriend and friends enrolled into Youth Works.
“I told them, ‘Everything you want to be, they’ll help you be that!’ Since I’m around their age, it’s easier to communicate with them and get them to listen to me. I’m not obligated to do any of this. I do it because the program helped me, and I know it can help them,” she concludes.