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REACH-ing New Heights
Five years strong, a workforce development program gives qualified employees a shot at upgrading their jobs.

blank Reaching
Lakeisha Cooper, left, is one of Yariela Kerr-Donovan’s (right) favorite REACH success stories.

Yariela Kerr-Donovan jumps at the chance to speak on the transformative power of education and just how committed Hopkins is to helping employees improve their lot. "With the right support and access," says the director of Project REACH/Community Education Programs, "someone in an entry-level position will become our next respiratory therapist or medical coder. I’ve seen it happen time and time again."

Launched by the U.S. Department of Labor in 2004, Project REACH—Resources and Education for the Advancement of Careers at Hopkins—opened the door for hundreds of employees to enter training programs to allied health care positions that chronically face critical shortages.

Here’s how the program—now funded entirely by the Health System—works: With manager approval and proven satisfactory job performance, employees with at least a year of full-time service may attend classes during work hours (up to 16 hours a week) while being paid, as long as they commit to repaying Hopkins in years of service. Those who first need to master basic skills are referred to the Skills Enhancement Program (see previous story). So far, more than 500 employees have benefitted from Project REACH.

At the outset, a REACH career coach provides guidance to determine the education employees will need to advance their careers. "We know it can be a long journey balancing work, family and school," says Kerr-Donovan, "but we help them find their strengths and develop a sense of control over their destiny."

Lakeisha Cooper can attest to those struggles. As a single mother lacking a high school diploma, Cooper began her Hopkins career in 2000 in environmental services. She’d tried several times to earn her GED on her own but was unsuccessful. "Yet I wanted a better job," she says. So when her manager told her about REACH, she decided to apply.

Accepted into the program in the spring of 2005, Cooper began with the business skills course and accelerated GED course. Shortly after earning her GED, she enrolled in the pharmacy technician training course. Six months after passing that course, Cooper took the state boards and accepted a position as a pharmacy tech at Hopkins Hospital’s central pharmacy. Cooper enjoys her job and says, "I’m not ruling out becoming a pharmacist."

With the opening of two new clinical buildings, Kerr-Donovan anticipates more critical skills shortages. "Anyone who has ever dreamed of doing something other than what they’re doing now within Hopkins should consider submitting an application," says Kerr-Donovan. "Sometimes employees may feel confused by how they can upgrade their education and skills while holding down a job—or two—and a family. We can help them find a way."


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