Twenty-three year old Brittany is, shall we say, outspoken. That is not to say she is pushy or loud or demanding of attention. It’s just that she’s not afraid to speak up. From the first day of orientation – when Counselor Yvonne Moten asked for volunteers to read aloud from the Caroline Center handbook and Brittany volunteered for every turn, to the day before graduation when the women were asked to reflect on their Caroline Center experience and Brittany offered 10 reflections for every one the other CNA’s offered – Brittany made her presence known. It got to the point in the 15-week course where her fellow classmates would just groan and roll their eyes every time Brittany raised her hand and called out, “Oh, and one more thing…” Even then, amidst the good-natured ribbing, Brittany remained undaunted. “Hey, y’all left a great big hole in the conversation. I just filled it,” she said unapologetically.
Brittany recognizes an opportunity when she sees one. That is precisely why she applied to the Caroline Center Certified Nursing Assistant program (CNA) in the first place. She knew it could be a game changer for her. It’s not simply that she’s tired of being overlooked in life, of being unappreciated by some and taken for granted by others, although that’s part of it. But there’s more to it than that. Brittany wants to count for something. She knows she can make a positive difference in the lives of others and she wants a chance to prove it. It is an extraordinarily generous goal considering how little Brittany was given in life.
By the time she was 5 years old, Brittany was an orphan. Both her parents died of AIDS. For a while, Brittany, her 4 older brothers, and 1 younger sister lived with her maternal grandmother. When her grandmother had a stroke and became paralyzed on one side, it was 8-year old Brittany who cared for her. The siblings were split up after the death of her grandmother and at age 13, Brittany went to live with an aunt who spent more time doing drugs than watching over Brittany. Essentially, Brittany raised herself and so it seemed only natural to apply for independent living through the foster care system when she became eligible. By 18, Brittany was legally on her own living in an apartment and working.
“I thought it was important to show everybody that I was not a victim,” Brittany stated. “No joke, it was some kinda journey. I went through some storms, but I handled my demons.”
Fiercely independent and courageous, Brittany made a go of it for a few years, but those virtues alone were not enough to see her through. And so, without the family, support network, or adult guidance she had been lacking her whole life, Brittany eventually lost both her job and her apartment. Victim or not, at 22, Brittany would have to start all over. Again. A friend referred her to Caroline Center and Brittany applied immediately. While she waited to find out if she had been accepted into the program or not, Brittany fell asleep every night whispering, “I have to get in. I just have to.” Her prayer was answered.
“Caroline Center is just confirmation for me,” Brittany said. “Confirmation that I can do this. That I’ve got skills and gifts that need to be used. Caroline Center helps me do that. They do whatever it takes. Heck, they even bought my eyeglasses,” Brittany said, pointing to the specs she was wearing. Caroline Center had indeed bought her new glasses when a teacher noticed her squinting at the board and, after some prodding, discovered Brittany had lost her only pair. Brittany sat there for a minute, thinking about that.
“They genuinely care about your future,” she added in quiet amazement. It was, perhaps, a foreign concept to her. It nurtured in her a sense of self worth. Something she’d always intuitively understood. Still, after years of finding all her strength in herself, it was nice to be validated.
After a week of clinicals at St. Elizabeth’s Nursing Center, Brittany also takes particular pride in a newfound sense of professionalism. “We rocked St. Elizabeth’s,” Brittany testified. “We had them crying when we left.” It is as if the independence thrust upon her at such a young age was giving way to a need to connect with others.
“I know I’ve got something to give. I wanna do that. I wanna make the world a better place.” She is off to a good start and in another five years, she says, she would like to be an RN.
“Oh, and one more thing,” Brittany said in her signature postscript. “I want to start an organization for at-risk kids. To help them. I’m gonna call it BEYEW…Be You…Be Everything You Ever Wanted. Kids need to know they’re worth something. Right now.”
Though still young, Brittany refers to herself as an ‘old soul.’ She has had to do more for herself in 23 years than most of us will ever have to do in a lifetime. She has certainly had a few false starts. Although, in retrospect, perhaps they were just so much dress rehearsal. Something tells me, she’s just getting started. Oh, and one more thing. Take it from us; Brittany has a lot to give.
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