At a ceremony held late last fall in partnership with the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and Illinois Society for Human Resource Management, Veronica Flores Diaz received a prestigious Illinois Job Honor Award in recognition of her personal triumph over adversity.
It was a tremendous honor for the certified medical assistant—both the culmination of plenty of hard work and perseverance and, hopefully, the beginning of even better things to come.
But up until a few years ago, Flores Diaz didn’t envision herself with a job in the healthcare field—let alone winning an award for her achievements. She immigrated to the United States from Mexico while just a teenager, and as an adult had largely felt stuck working part-time, low-wage jobs to try to help make ends meet for her family.
Her interest in a career as a medical assistant grew after celebrating a friend’s graduation from the healthcare bridge program at Erie Neighborhood House, but she still wasn’t convinced a job skills training program was for her. Nevertheless, she encouraged her sister to join the 20-week Erie House Pathways to Success course.
That simple, seemingly insignificant action was all that was needed to set things in motion. “I took my sister to the class,” she recalls, “and it ended up being me who enrolled in the program.”
Once at Erie House, she quickly began developing the skills she would need to pursue a career in healthcare. “The program at Erie House was really great,” says Flores Diaz, explaining that she felt extremely supported throughout the 5 months required to complete the program. “It gave me the confidence I needed.”
She learned under the direction of Jose Luis Mosqueda, Pathways to Success instructor and healthcare careers coordinator at Erie House. “Veronica’s communication skills improved a lot,” recalls Mosqueda, citing her determination to learn and resilient spirit as assets she brought into the classroom. “She was really smart, really sharp, and she asked a lot of questions. That made me grow as a teacher.”
Success stories like that of Flores Diaz remind Mosqueda why the work he and his colleagues are doing to empower adult learners is so important. “Erie House gives them the knowledge, connections and confidence they need to succeed,” he says. “Whenever we see them go out and do that, we feel so proud.”
In addition to healthcare, the Workforce Development program at Erie House offers training in the fields of manufacturing and information technology. Funding for the program is provided by the Lloyd A. Fry Foundation, Chicago Community Trust and United Way of Metropolitan Chicago and a handful of other foundations. Tuition for the healthcare and manufacturing bridge programs is free; students pay a nominal fee for IT training on a class by class basis.
Upon completing their respective program, students are able to work with Erie House staff to explore additional coursework and training to continue advancing their careers.
“This is where our students start,” explains Mosqueda. “Erie House is the door to the future, and I get to help them open that door.”
That metaphor rang true for Flores Diaz. Following completion of the healthcare bridge program at Erie House, she enrolled in a medical assistant program at Wilbur Wright College.
Today she works as a medical assistant for Esperanza Health Centers, a community health center serving residents of Chicago’s Southwest Side. It’s a role that she enjoys. “I feel like I’m helping people—especially those who don’t speak English,” she says. “Sometimes it’s hard for them to understand the medical concepts they’re hearing about for the first time.”
As happy as she is working as a medical assistant, Flores Diaz is eager to continue advancing her career. “I want to go back to school to become a nurse,” she explains.
This sort of ambition is not uncommon for graduates of the Workforce Development program at Erie House. “Many of our students are immigrants or high school dropouts or single moms earning minimum wage,” says Mosqueda. Once they begin to unlock their potential and achieve success, the sky is the limit. “They have so much potential,” he says. “This is just the start.”