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Neighbors Link Northern Westchester and Westchester Community College

Defining the Problem that Brought the Team Together
There is a growing need for healthcare workers in Westchester County. Business associations indicate that healthcare is emerging as the “the largest economic engine in the Hudson Valley, contributing $15 billion to the regional economy.” Changing demographics, including the increase in the older adult cohorts, is contributing to the need for health care workers, especially for those that are qualified to be employed in long term care facilities and related service groups. New York State’s population as a whole will grow only 1.3% by 2040, but the population of those who are 80+ will grow by 42.2%. The growth of older cohorts is expected to have the most impact in upstate New York; however, the growth in Westchester County is still substantial at nearly 30%. Surrounding counties are expected to experience higher increases.

Immigrants are poised to contribute to the state-wide need for healthcare workers, and would provide the additional benefit of being bi-lingual. The number of immigrants in Westchester County has grown significantly over the last decade or more. Limited English proficiency creates integration barriers for immigrants, and the level of language proficiency required to enroll in healthcare education programs requires a significant investment in time and money. Currently, there are relatively few opportunities for immigrants with limited English language proficiency to enter healthcare programs that provide language contextualization, enabling participants to both gain job skills and concurrently develop English language skills. While successful instructional models, such as I-Best, present examples of how contextualization can accelerate the path to credential attainment and job placement, widespread implementation of this model has not occurred in Westchester County.

Description of the Partners
Based in Mt. Kisco, Neighbors Link Northern Westchester (NL) is a community center providing critical education and employment opportunities for over 2,500 immigrant and working poor families in northern Westchester County, NY each year. The NL mission is to strengthen the whole community by actively enhancing the healthy integration of immigrants. Our mission is achieved by offering programs for new immigrant individuals and families, involving longer-term residents in volunteer opportunities, and creating substantive partnerships with local organizations. Neighbors Link was formed in 1999 by a group of community organizers and volunteers in response to an increasingly hostile environment for new immigrants in Mount Kisco and the surrounding area. Today, NL employs 10 full-time staff members, 4 part-time staff members, and 13 part-time teachers for afterschool and summer academic programs for children. Critical to our strategy is the participation of over 300 diverse volunteers who donate 35,000 hours annually; half are high school students from a wide range of area school districts.

Located in Valhalla, New York, Westchester Community College (WCC) was founded in 1946. Enrollment at the College includes over 13,000 full- and part-time college credit students each semester; Continuing Education and Workforce training students bring the total number of individuals served by the college each semester to more than 24,000. The mission of WCC is to provide accessible, high quality and affordable education to meet the needs of our diverse community. We are committed to student success, academic excellence, workforce development, economic development and lifelong learning. The members of the college community strive to address the mission through all activities, and by providing access to education on the Valhalla Campus, at five full-service, hub extension centers, five school-based education sites, and throughout the County at community-based agency sites.

Original Work Plan
There is a documented need in New York State for Home Health Aides with an anticipated increase of 29% in 2012-2022. Neighbors Link and Westchester Community College have created a Home Companion Course in order to create a stackable credential for students and prepare them for participation in Home Health Aide programs. Building on their partnership of eight years to deliver English as a Second Language (ESL) classes to over 300 learners each year, this new BCPIW project will integrate contextualized ESL with a Home Companion training curriculum. Currently there are relatively few opportunities for immigrants with limited English language proficiency to enter healthcare programs that develop job skills and English language skills concurrently. To accomplish their plan, the team identified five goals to accomplish as part of the BCPIW initiative.

  1. Develop a stackable pathway to healthcare professions.

  2. Recruit students and assess their basic literacy skill levels to determine the contextualized curriculum content.

  3. Foster current relationships and develop new partnerships in the community to ensure that completers of the program can achieve employment.

  4. Participate in fundraising to support the initiative.

  5. Develop a plan to deliver comprehensive support services to students.

Progress -to-Date
To ensure employment in the region, the team utilized Burning Glass Technology to assess local labor market data. The data supported the need and provided valuable insight into employer’s needs for the curriculum.

As such, the Home Companion curriculum was developed by the team and is ready to enroll students in January 2016. The program will train immigrant students in non-medical services for seniors and adults with physical challenges. Home Companions will not only provide companionship but also encourage independence. The initial cohort will be comprised of 12-16 immigrant candidates who will be recruited by NL and identified as having a high potential for success through initial screening. WCC will assess the English skills for each of these students for program readiness. The Home Companion Certificate will be the first step in the career pathway. Completers of HC will be eligible for the Personal Care Aide Certificate and completers of that certificate could pursue the Home Health Aide Certificate, both offered by WCC.

To ensure enrollment, the team developed an image for marketing materials including flyers, postcards, and a newspaper ad was put into circulation in early December 2015. On December 21, 2015, the team presented an open house to engage the community and build excitement about the new program.

Because the team has extensive experience working with immigrants and immigrant workers, they knew that comprehensive student supports are critical to ensuring retention and success. Thus, NL established a wrap-around services plan for students. NL will provide a half-hour dinner before each 2.5 hour class and childcare services as part of the wrap-around services plan. Each block of class/community building time will be three hours. NL also created the format for three learning facilitator meetings in the beginning, middle, and end of the course to support the students at crucial junctures. This comprehensive support plan will help the team achieve their goal of enrolling and completing 12-16 immigrant Home Companions.

Impact of the Initiative and Lessons Learned
The importance of face-to-face meetings with partners was evident. The team was re-energized after each meeting helping to maintain clear communication about the project. While phone meetings were helpful due to busy schedules, the face-to-face meetings kept the team connected. The technical assistance calls also proved to keep the team on track. And the team realized early on that they needed to create realistic deadlines and be flexible because of the nature of their extensive work plan.

The initial plan was to develop the Home Health Aide certificate. However, when realizing that this curriculum required strong communication skills the team needed to reconsider. After assessing the English language skills of many of their clients, the team reorganized and decided that Home Companion was a better first step. Currently, the team is exploring alternative education for clients who are interested in the program but do not yet meet the ESL requirements.

The team encountered some unexpected state licensing challenges when developing the program. Every conversation with staff in the NY State Education Department and NY State Department of Health offices raised new questions and issues. Nonetheless, these conversations proved to be productive in removing roadblocks for immigrants such as registry and certification issues.

The team encountered one final challenge. In developing the marketing materials, they could not find a Spanish equivalent for the name “Home Companion.” None of the translations seemed suitable. In the end, the team decided to just use the English term “Home Companion” for the Spanish marketing materials realizing that the name itself carried weight and could be used whether a student was speaking in Spanish or English.

Future Plans and Sustainability of the Partnership
As stated above, the first Home Companion Certificate program will begin in January 2016. The partners are developing marketing materials for employers and are working with local employers and agencies to develop hands-on experience outside of the classroom. The team is also seeking volunteers to provide support in the classroom and during the learning facilitative meetings. WCC is confirming the curriculum for the next two steps on the career pathway: Personal Care Aide and Home Health Aide. And plans are in place to run the program at least 2-3 times per year. This team is very engaged and committed to serving their community long into the future.

Carola Otero Bracco, Executive Director, Neighbors Link Northern Westchester
Luisa Granda, Director of Adult Education and Operations, Neighbors Link Northern Westchester
Ramiro Rincon, Workforce Development Manager, Neighbors Link Northern Westchester
Robert Nechols, Director English Language Institute, Westchester Community College
Kathy Graf, ESL Coordinator, Westchester Community College

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