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Heather Eichelberger, a certified nurse's assistant at the Canterbury Inn assisted living center in Longview, works with residents Ed Bernhagen, left, and Bill Westoff. Bill Wagner / The Daily News

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Woman nurses hope for a career

Tuesday, July 29, 2008 11:32 PM PDT

By Carrie Pederson

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A chance encounter with Kim Mitchell gave Heather Eichelberger, 20, a second chance. Eichelberger, who bounced in between Longview and Mississippi most of her whole life, was trying to get a fresh start in Longview this spring after struggling with drug use down south.

Mitchell, Eichelberger’s former mentor from the Educational Service District 112’s Youth Workforce Program, dropped by the Longview Quiznos sandwich shop where Eichelberger was working and asked if she would like to re-enroll in the program.

Since then Eichelberger has earned her GED high school equivalency diploma, became a licensed Certified Nurses Assistant and got a job at the Canterbury Inn assisted living center in Longview.

“It feels good doing something with my life for once and be able to get somewhere, have my own place and money in the bank,” Eichelberger said.

Eichelberger trained for her CNA license in the ESD 112’s federally funded Youth Workforce Academy, an eight-week vocational training program for low-income and at-risk youth.

ESD 112, a regional agency that serves 30 public school districts in Southwest Washington, launched the CNA track of the academy this spring because there is a demand for CNAs in this area, said Mitchell, a youth workforce specialist.

Other tracks offered in ESD 112 academies —construction, early childhood education, business technology, and health care— are also in demand fields, she said.

The training program not only prepares students for long-term employment, it helps low-income students with immediate financial needs, ESD 112 specialists say.

Students are paid minimum wage to attend career academies with federal dollars through the Youth Workforce Investment Act. Students can also get assistance for travel expenses, work clothes, or post-secondary training, said Christine Katon, ESD 112 youth workforce specialist.

Eichelberger first moved from Longview to her dad’s home state of Mississippi when she was 8. Eichelberger said she was a good student until she started using drugs at 13.

Around the age of 15, Eichelberger said she quit school to care for her grandmother who had Alzheimer’s. Shortly after that her grandmother died and her father went to prison, so Eichelberger came to Longview to live with her aunt and her brother.

“My aunt is amazing,” Eichelberger said. “She has flown me here twice on a day’s notice.”

As a sophomore, Eichelberger enrolled Mark Morris High School’s Monarch Program, an online, after school alternative program.

She also joined the ESD 112’s Youth Workforce Program to get help with schoolwork, as well as career counseling and job training.

As part of the program, Eichelberger was in a health care academy in the summer. “It made me want to really explore the health care field more,” she said.

But continuing to use drugs slowed her progress. Her family, she said, has a history of drug abuse, and ” I followed their path for quite a while.”

“I got messed up in drugs and I could not handle high school. I ended up dropping out a month before graduation.”

After a falling out with her family in Longview Eichelberger went back to Mississippi and found work as a nurse’s aide. That state does not require a license, she said.

“I went back with friends and got strung out on drugs,” Eichelberger said.

Early this spring, Eichelberger said she moved back to Longview from Mississippi to start over.

Eichelberger said she didn’t consider getting CNA training until she reunited with Mitchell.

“I would have never thought I would pass,” she said.

Eichelberger said going through the ESD 112’s CNA academy helped her to stop using drugs when she returned to Longview.

This month she passed the CNA licensing test and has found a job she loves. “I love being an aide working with the elderly and getting to know them,” she said.

She helps residents with daily tasks such as eating, brushing teeth and getting ready for bed.

Eichelberger said she enjoys learning the little things about residents, like if they want their socks on or off when they go to bed.

“It’s hard work but it’s rewarding,” she said. “You have all these grandparents.”

Mitchell said being able to work with youth from the time they are 16 until 21 is an advantage of the ESD 112’s Youth Workforce Program.

“We can continue to offer support,” she said. Even though Eichelberger already completed the CNA academy and got her license, Mitchell will continue to mentor her until she is 21.

Eichelberger said she likes knowing Mitchell will be there checking in on her for another year. “There’s someone to give you a little extra boost to get you going in the right direction,” she said.

“I’ve never really had parents to help me make my goals,” Eichelberger said. “In (ESD 112’s) program you’re constantly making goals and having rewards if you make the goals.”

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longview citizen wrote on Jul 30, 2008 7:54 AM:

" What if she up and decides to return to Mississippi before her year is up? It seems that is not where she thrives. I would encourage Heather to remain in the Longview area where she has a good support system and people who care about her, obviously her so called friends from Mississippi are not good influences. "

Tkat wrote on Jul 30, 2008 9:40 AM:

" Good for you Heather! So many youth these days so not have the parental support and you have made a good life without it. I only hope that for your chance you help another teen that may be going astray. That would really help the kids in our area if they have the moral support of other teens helping them....while having the help from the Youth Workforce Program. Great story. "

countrygirl001 wrote on Jul 30, 2008 4:57 PM:

" Heather I am so excited for you!!! I worked with Heather a few years ago at the hospital and it's great to read about her bright future as a cna....glad you came back to Longview and things are going well for you. "