WDI Success Story: May

Please tell us your story; what brought you to the Bridges to Careers program?

I came to the United States wanting to improve my English and start a new career. I started to take classes at Hawthorne to improve my English. Then I started my HCOP certificate and completed it. Then, I started my AOP diploma at RCTC and completed it. Bridges to Careers helped me transition from Hawthorne to RCTC to continue my education.

How would your life be different without the Bridges to Careers program?  Please share how the college prep courses, Career Navigators, job search assistance, support and/or training made a difference for you. 

The Bridges to Career program helped me pay for the Customer Service Skills certificate. They also gave me a scholarship for my AOP classes at RCTC, and they provided me with a mock interview when I wanted to apply for a job, which helped me be prepared for my job interview. They also helped me find a job position within my career and skills. This included helping me prepare my resume and cover letter. Without their help, I might not have been able to complete my diploma or be prepared to apply for a job. I want to let them know that I got hired at Mayo Clinic recently, I’m so happy that I achieved my goal and found the position I was looking for. I want to say thank you to the Bridges to Career program and Jennifer Dang who made a huge effort to help me. Jennifer is a hardworking employee, she helped me to prepare my resume and cover letter, she also helped me find the position that I was looking for, and we did many mock interviews to be ready for the actual one. Thank you so much Jennifer!

WDI Success Story: Kelli

Kelli has been a client of Workforce Development, Inc. since 2015. She has been using county benefits while working on applying for social security disability. Over the years she has attempted to work several jobs, but was never able to maintain them either due to her scheduling needs or the demands they put on her physically and mentally. Kelli thrived on routine and when COVID-19 hit, many of her regular services and appointments were disrupted. At first it was devastating and Kelli struggled to go on day to day.

One day, her son, who successfully participated in WDI’s youth programming, suggested she apply as a bus aid for the company he works for. Kelli decided to try. The odd hours (mornings and afternoons) fit well with her schedule and she soon learned she thrived working with the younger kids. The bus company has been very flexible and structures her routes around her physical and mental health services so she can continue to stay healthy. They have also discussed with her additional training so she can drive the vans as well as work as an aid. She has maintained her employment since September 2020.

What started as a sub position has lead to a permanent spot as an aide on the bus for 3-4 year-olds and special education students. Kelli says “I love it and can get those kiddos laughing like crazy!”

WDI Success Story: From COVID to CLIMB: A Self-Employment Success Story

Tracy Bjerke of Owatonna had been working as a registered dietician at Hy-Vee when she was laid off in early 2020 at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Tracy had been working at Hy-Vee for a little over 7 years before she was laid off, so to say that the news of losing her job came as a shock would be an understatement. However, Tracy took this news as an opportunity to reflect on where she wanted to take her career and how she could use her knowledge and expertise in nutrition and wellness to improve the lives of the members of her community.

Tracy decided that she would dive head-first into starting her own intuitive eating and nutrition counseling business. Her goal would be to help individuals cultivate a healthy relationship with food, mind, and body and help clients heal their relationships with food. Tracy learned about Workforce Development and how they could help individuals who had recently been laid off from their job. Tracy was connected with a Career Planner who introduced her to the Converting Layoffs Into Minnesota Businesses (CLIMB) program designed to help entrepreneurs in Minnesota start their own business.

Now, almost one year after enrolling in the CLIMB program through Workforce Development, Tracy has launched her own private practice, Bjerke Nutrition and Wellness, LLC. Tracy hit the ground running – networking in her local community, presenting to local Rotary chapters, attending Owatonna Business Women’s presentations, and even starting a monthly segment on KOWZ radio to spread the word about her services. Her success quickly became recognized in the community and Tracy’s story was featured on an ABC 6 News story about finding career success amid the pandemic. You can view Tracy’s story here: Southeast Minnesota non-profit connects people with new jobs | KAALTV.com

“Workforce Development has been a valuable resource for me as I have navigated starting my private practice,” Bjerke told her Career Planner at Workforce Development. While starting a business in the middle of a pandemic is no easy feat, Tracy is optimistic about the opportunities coming her way: “I am really hopeful about the future of my business but know it will take time. I am saying yes to every opportunity I can afford!”

To learn more about Tracy’s business, Bjerke Nutrition and Wellness, LLC, visit her website at: https://bjerkenutritionandwellness.com/.

Submitted by Cassie Wessing, Dislocated Worker Career Planner

WDI Success Story: Meijin

My name is Meijin Wang, and I am from China. I’ve lived in Rochester, Minnesota since 2006. When I arrived, I discovered the freezing weather they have here in Rochester, and its long six-month winter. My English was limited, so I started to work as a kitchen helper at a Chinese restaurant. I worked 12 hours every day, no regular holidays and weekend schedule. For the first five years, I have three children, two boys and a girl. We live in a three generation household: my kids, me and my husband, and their grandparents. My kids spent most of their time with their grandparents and they rarely spent time with me due to my working shifts. When I get home from work, it would usually be passed 11 o’clock. I felt that I didn’t spend enough time with my kids. So I told myself that I wanted to live a normal life with my children: having dinner together, spending time over the weekends and holidays, doing what most parents do with their kids.

When my youngest daughter started kindergarten, I went to Hawthorne Adult Learning Center to improve my English. There, I took some reading and writing classes to improve my second language: English. Most students at the learning center were also immigrants from different countries, and have very limited English. Because of this, we couldn’t find a professional job. Hawthorne provides a variety of classes to help their students reach their school goal for example, getting a GED, a post-secondary certification. During school, my friends all talk about the world-famous Mayo Clinic and how great of a hospital it is. Someday, I want  my children to proudly say, “My mom works at Mayo Clinic.”  So, I started to formulate a dream, a dream that is, working at Mayo.

I still remembered one of my reading teachers. I remember telling him that I wasn’t sure how many years it would take for me to study and find a job at Mayo since I was still struggling with language barriers. I am a mom of three children that works a full-time job at a restaurant. However, he told me that everyone turns 40 and each person has a different journey to his/her own destination.  It’s never too late to start something and get closer to your destination. He said, “When you recall your life when you’re 40, you will not regret that step you made.”  I started to take one or two classes first. Through this, I learned how to use my free time wisely. Like studying while waiting for my children’s afterschool activities are done, listening to lecture recordings while driving, and asking for help when I needed it. I tried to do my best to balance my school life and family life.

I enrolled in a program called “Bridges to College and Careers-bridges to healthcare”. This program collaborates with Hawthorne education, Rochester Community and Technical College (RCTC), workforce development, and Mayo clinic. This program provides the courses and support the immigrant needs to successfully make a transition from adult learning education to post-secondary certifications and degrees in healthcare. I took the Clinical Nurse Aid (CNA) class and got my license at 2015. I started working as a CNA at a nursing home and at the same time, I transferred to RCTC, and obtained Advanced Hospital Nursing Assistant license with high honor. After that, I took pre-require classes to prepare to enter the nursing program and got accepted by the RCTC nursing program with GPA 4.0 at 2018. This year, I graduated the Associate Degree Nursing program at RCTC with Honors GPA., and I passed my NCLEX-RN exam in July.

I was so thankful for enrolling in the bridge program; I met so many great people during this bridge program, helping me to reach my dreams. The bridge program went through everything these few years. It not only helped me start a new career, but it also built a strong foundation to support my dream job. I was helped with college class registrations, planning, books, tuition help, and job preparation. I had my first interview and got the nurse offer at Mayo Clinic. My first start day is 10/26.  I am more than happy to provide care towards patients in a hospital setting, and to put my education into action.

After so many years put into learning, I wanted to share my journey to the students of Hawthorne. To the people who seek help to improve their future; do not be afraid to have a big dream. But if you think the dream is too big for you, just start with a smaller step, and you will reach your dream someday. Here is where my dream started, and it can be where yours starts too.

WDI Success Story: Alex

Alex is a young man who email questions about the Pathways to Prosperity grant, specifically the Accelerated Welding class. His probation officer had given him the information and he was interested and wanted to know if he qualified for grant money. He was currently working as a chef in a local bar/restaurant.

We met and after talking about all the programs he decided that he was interested in the Computer Numerical Control (CNC) class instead.

Alex finished the Accelerated Welding class at MSC-Southeast Winona and had a job at Fastenal in Winona before he graduated. He will continue to go to school for CNC at Minnesota State College-Southeast Winona in a 2-year program, while working at Fastenal. They will reimburse him when he completes the semesters. Alex started work in March and has already been promoted at Fastenal.

This was a thank you note from Alex at the end of his class.

“I just wanted to say thank you for all the help and support I got from the Wabasha Workforce Development, Inc. office. I got the opportunity to take the CNC class and open the doors to a future in a CNC career. Right away I got a job at Fastenal and you continued to show me support and made sure that I had everything I need for work. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for in a job and you helped me find the perfect fit.” – Alex

I contacted him recently and asked if he would sign a release and if he would be OK with having a picture and his journey published. He signed the release, sent a picture, and this was his response: “Let me know if there is any other way I can help. I really appreciate everything you guys have done for me. I would love for the grant to continue so you can help as many people as possible. Hopefully they will all make the best of it. If there is anything more that I can do, I would love to help.”

Submitted by Kim Buysse, Career Navigator


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