Marcela Ganem started receiving unusual questions at medical appointments when she began prenatal care last year and the inquiries weren’t about her pregnancy.
Aside from medical information, a nurse asked about her career aspirations. That appointment with the Nurse-Family Partnership resulted in a referral to the Baylor College of Medicine Teen Health Clinic, which is housed in the same building.
“It turned into an opportunity for me to get the guidance I needed to go into nursing,” Ganem said.
The 23-year-old has sharpened her focus on a career—and how to get there—thanks to Ascend, a Baylor College of Medicine workforce development project designed to usher “disconnected youth” into employment at the medical school and across the Texas Medical Center. The program targets young people who are not working or going to school.
More than 111,000 adolescents in the Houston region ages of 16 to 24—14 percent of that population—were neither working nor attending school in 2014, according to an analysis published in 2016 by the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University. Experts estimate the number is even higher today.
Baylor’s project, like others, is funded by JPMorgan Chase. Ascend has a two-year, $250,000 grant that ends in July 2020.
The Houston programs working to address the challenges faced by disconnected youth were unveiled during a celebration and panel discussion with JPMorgan Chase Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon, Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis and Baylor College of Medicine President and CEO Paul Klotman, M.D.
The Bridge to College and Career Success announcement on Jan. 31 at the SERJobs Workforce Opportunity Center drew more than 100 people who listened to the panelists discuss workforce training and why investing in opportunities for young adults builds sustainable communities.
SERJobs is a workforce development nonprofit in Houston that supports, trains, educates and places 5,000 job-seekers annually who have low incomes or face barriers to employment.
Bridge to College and Career Success, which received $1.3 million from JPMorgan Chase, just completed its pilot year supporting innovative partnerships with Baylor College of Medicine and others to match the talents and passions of young people with the region’s high-demand careers in health, energy and technology. Other collaborators include the Trellis Foundation, Educate Texas and Jobs for the Future.
“Project Ascend … has really focused their job training on getting jobs in the Texas Medical Center in health care-related jobs and at Baylor College of Medicine,” Klotman said. “It really fits in perfectly with the Bridge program and it’s been incredibly successful.”
The vast majority of workers are employed in the private sector, so linking youth with careers cannot be solved by government alone, the JPMorgan CEO said.
“Programs work,” Dimon added. “Once [youth] get to work, they get some money, they get invested in society, better social outcomes, it’s better crime outcomes—drug outcomes. They usually form families. We need to give them a living wage. It’s the best way to help lift up society.”
From care to work
Baylor’s Teen Health Clinic has 10 sites in high-disparity Houston communities—including five schools—that serve more than 30,000 patients ages 13 to 24 annually.
“We see a lot of the targeted age group. As their medical home, we are actually a portal into care. Through the intake process, we would find some kids who really needed to work, but needed some social support to do that—anything from transportation to a babysitter,” said Peggy Smith, Ph.D., director of the Baylor Teen Health Clinic and a professor of obstetrics and gynecology. “They needed some wind under their wings to help them transfer from being a patient to meet their interest in being employed to finding meaningful employment.”
Health careers also offer upward mobility, financially and otherwise.
“Work is a huge social determinant in terms of not only wellness but a whole lot of other variables,” Smith said.
Road to a nursing career
After high school, Ganem went to work. She had a string of jobs: Working in a restaurant. Selling cars. Interpreting over the phone for a health care company.
“I enjoyed the calls,” she said. “I just wanted to be in the room being the nurse. I just wanted to take care of the babies and the patients.”
Ganem stopped attending Houston Community College (HCC) after struggling in math.
“I definitely wanted to do nursing, but I didn’t know how to get back to it,” she said.
Ascend project coordinator David McBride III and others helped her navigate the process.
“They held my hand and helped me with the paperwork. With registering. They do workshops and they have counselors as well,” she said.
Ganem, who is due in two weeks, plans to resume her education this summer at HCC in medical billing and coding.
“My ultimate goal is to either be a labor and delivery nurse or work in the NICU, the neonatal intensive care unit,” she said.
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