How the Red Cross CNA Program Changed Denise’s Life


Denise’s story is not yourrco_blog_img_moses 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.

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Remember the Good on an Awful Day

With the Mark Wahlberg movie Patriots Day in wide release today, it’s an appropriate time to reflect on the good work the American Red Cross and its volunteers do every day here in the Commonwealth.

patriots-day-headerWhen two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, focus shifted from a day of personal achievements to a rescue and response atmosphere. Over the next two weeks the region cycled through the fear of an attack, the determined drive to bring the accused to justice and a feeling of collective healing as people rallied around the victims, all while people tried to find what normal was after the Patriots Day bombing.
The American Red Cross has a long history supporting the Boston Marathon, staffing medical tents and water stations. Red Cross volunteers were at the finish line in 2013, directing marathon finishers to recovery areas, medical assistance, all the while keeping race lanes clear for the finishing wheel chair participants.

Lisa Contee was one of those volunteers working the finish line area of the Boston Marathon April 15, 2013. She helped runners through the finish line area, often times into the medical tent to receive treatment after the grueling 26.2 miles course.

“When the first explosion happened, we all thought it was some type of construction, perhaps just out of site,” Lisa recalled. “When the second explosion occurred, I was terrified; we all knew what it was.”

As organizers and police closed the finish line area for security reasons, Lisa and other Red Cross volunteers made their way back to the Regional Headquarters in Cambridge to await instructions on how to help.

Lisa describes the next 10 days as a flurry of support activities. Volunteers drove emergency response vehicles around the city of Boston loaded with coffee, water and snacks to help support law enforcement and medical personnel. The Red Cross disaster operation center was opened and staffed to ensure services were available to all who needed them.

“For 10 days we worked nonstop, but I needed to keep myself busy. I couldn’t cope with what happened, it was surreal for me,” Lisa said. This was a common thread among Red Cross volunteers and first responders.  But as work slowed most realized the need to speak about what had happened.

Lisa spoke with disaster volunteers who specialize in coping with tragedy. Disaster mental health volunteers assisted first responders, National Guard troops as well as Red Cross staff and volunteers who had been working around the clock supporting police and recovery operations.

Though an exhausting time, both physically and emotionally, Lisa said it was an unforgettable time because of the people she met and assisted. The American Red Cross mission to alleviate suffering was definitely felt over those difficult weeks.

Thank you to all those who stepped forward to help during the aftermath of that day, and our thoughts continue to be with those still recovering from that day nearly four years ago.