Denise’s story is not your average tale about overcoming adversity. Her story begins as a child growing up among seven siblings, all raised by parents caught in a cycle of substance abuse. Bounced from foster home to foster home, Denise set her mind to finding a job that would allow her to rely on no one but herself, and so she dropped out of high school, found a menial job but then soon after found herself pregnant. Her childhood quickly fading away and then pregnant with her second child, Denise realized that in order to create a better life for herself and her family, she would need to go back to school.
Denise first encountered the American Red Cross as a young girl when her family suffered the devastating loss of their Boston home in a fire. The Red Cross was there to provide financial assistance and lodging for the nine members of her family, leaving them incredibly grateful to have received help when it was needed most.
When thinking about her new life to come, her Red Cross experience came to mind, and so she inquired about a career in health care and the American Red Cross Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) Program.
“CNA pays very well, you get as many hours as you want, and you can go anywhere and always have a job. That can change anyone’s life.”
While taking night classes towards her CNA certification with the Red Cross in Lawrence, she simultaneously completed her GED. Going to two schools at once consumed all of her time. The time it took to get from her home to her classes was her biggest hurdle because Denise is legally blind and unable to drive. She didn’t let transportation limitations stop her from accomplishing her dreams and instead walked to and from classes. As if this wasn’t enough of an obstacle, Denise also has a learning disability. Classes were difficult for her and she did not pick things up as quickly as her classmates but she studied hard and never gave up. “Nothing can stop me,” she said. Denise graduated from the Red Cross CNA program in 2016 and passed the state exam on the first try.
When talking about the Red Cross CNA program, Denise boasts that “the class was very disciplined. The way they teach you is very close to how it is in real life.” After, the instructors continue to call and check up on her, not because they have to, but because they care.
“They call to check and see if you have a job and if you don’t they ask how they can help. They really care.”
Immediately upon graduation, Denise was offered three positions. She now works two jobs and walks 20 miles a day to get there, five hours of walking a day. Denise leaves for work an hour before she needs to so she can stop and talk to all her neighbors along the way. She has become so attached to her clients that sometimes she will go spend time with them on her day off. “It’s not about the money, I like the fact that I can interact with the patients.”
Denise received employee of the year her first year on the job. One would think Denise’s struggle should end here. Unfortunately, Denise was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after she got her first job. While undergoing treatment, Denise managed to continue to walk to work. She never took a day off when she wasn’t in the hospital and never let the cancer stop her.
“It’s not about me, it’s about my patients. I am there for them.”
While working as a home health aide in the Lowell area, Denise stays in touch with her instructors, occasionally having lunch with them and talking about future plans. “I’m going back to school next year to continue my education to become a licensed practical nurse,” she states eagerly. “And my former instructors keep encouraging me.” She promised her kids that she would one day become a nurse and she is dedicated to continue her education until she gets there. For now, Denise is paying for her sister to take the Red Cross CNA classes so that she can follow the same path to success that Denise did.