Henry County training program combats high unemployment rate

Most students at the Community Healthcare Training Academy are single moms

HENRY COUNTY, Va. – A training program in Henry County is making it easier for people to get back to work or change careers. 

The Community Healthcare Training Academy opened in July and since then, it's had a big reaction from the community. 

Most of the training courses are for entry-level healthcare positions, with classes taking anywhere from just one week to two months. Once students complete the courses, they're ready for work. They're trained for the hundreds of entry-level positions at hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies throughout the Roanoke Valley and Southside areas. 

The unemployment rate in Henry County sits at 5.2 percent. That's nearly a full point higher than the national unemployment average of 4.4 percent, and significantly higher than Virginia's unemployment rate of 3.8 percent. 

A higher than average unemployment rate is what pushed Melinda Stowe to create the Community Healthcare Training Academy. She says the majority of her students are single moms between the ages of 18 to 35 who are looking for a stable way to support their families. 

Stowe says one of the most important things to her is making sure the courses are available and affordable for everyone. She allows students to pay whatever down payment they can to start the classes. She then gives them several weeks after the courses end and they get a job to finish making those payments. 

She says this is important to her because she remembers what it's like to be a single mom struggling to pay for education. 

"I can completely relate to what it's like to struggle to afford your education, not knowing what you're going to do, how you're going to support your family," she says. "Healthcare is one of those skills that people can go into or out of at any point in their life."

Since opening in July, more than 30 students have taken part in the various courses and programs offered through the academy. 

Students can pick from a wide variety of programs, ranging from nursing assistant to personal care aide, even courses to teach daycare workers and other healthcare professionals the proper way to give patients their medicine.

Jennifer Bryant is in her first week of training to become a pharmacy technician. She says the setup for this program has made going back to school easy on her family.

She says there have been a few times she was unable to find childcare or had a babysitter cancel, something that would have caused her to miss classes and other programs. But with these courses, she's been allowed to bring her children to class with her when she's had no other option. 

"To see the people that come in, they are so happy. It's amazing," says Bryant. "[Stowe] wants everybody to be able to take care of their own family, and be self-supporting. That means a lot when you can depend on you, and your kids can too. It's just a good opportunity here."

Stowe is also working to create support groups for the Southside community, including a suicide survivors support group and a codependent anonymous meeting.  

For more details on the program, click here.