First apprentice class of 2024 graduates

Seven students graduated from Care Assistants to Nurse Aides during a ceremony Feb. 16 at the Employment, Education and Enrichment (EEE) Center. It was the first graduating class of 2024 for the earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program.

The students spent nearly six weeks in the classroom and in clinical skills labs at Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Hampton. They learn 22 skills, take 14 tests and get hands-on experience working with patients. The apprenticeship program also covers the cost of the state certification exam to be CNAs.

Friends, family members and VHS team members from corporate and Coliseum attended the graduation ceremony. Instructor Nora Gillespie, RN, and Director of Education Princess Henderson, BSN, RN, gave remarks as each graduate received their certificates. Instructor Tracy Williams, BSN, RN, handed grads their updated name badges to indicate they are now Nurse Aides.

The graduates – Iliana Apodaca, Ann Marie Morris Bellamy, Traci Jones (valedictorian), Tatyonna Gardner, Trinity Osborne, Tyra Stevenson and Moesha Williams (salutatorian) – will join the teams at Coliseum, James River and York Nursing and Rehabilitation Centers.

“It takes a special person to work with the elderly,” Nora said during the ceremony.

The graduates

Princess told the class it was “truly a good journey” with them. She and Nora showered the graduates with praise for their heart, compassion and ability to work together as a team.

Nora shared Iliana was “attentive, quiet and willing to the extra mile.” Princess added she was gentle with the residents.

Princess awarded Ann Marie the Champion Award for her hard work throughout the course of the class. She was recommended for the class by Coliseum Director of Nursing Yolanda Carnegie-Chambers, who was in the audience. “She would say she loved taking care of older people,” Nora said. Ann Marie plans to attend nursing school.

“Your heart shines,” Nora said of Tatyonna. Princess added her head was “always in the game.”

Trinity also is eyeing nursing school. She is determined, Princess said, and inspired by her grandparents.

“You do it well,” Nora told Tyra. Princess called her “determined, strong-willed and strong.” The former personal care aide learned to provide a gentler touch during clinicals.

Salutatorian Moesha “did a wonderful job,” Princess said, adding the experience is a perfect stepping stone for a nursing career.


Valedictorian Traci Jones and Director of Education Princess Henderson.
Valedictorian Traci Jones and Director of Education Princess Henderson.

Traci also was referred to the class by the team at Coliseum. She was first licensed as a CNA in 1995 and needed to refresh her credentials. She told her instructors this is her calling, Princess said.

Princess read Traci’s valedictorian speech.

“I am filled with immense pride and gratitude … our journey in nursing has been nothing short of challenging, yet incredibly rewarding. … Through it all we have grown not only as healthcare professionals but also as compassionate individuals committed to making a difference in the lives of others. …,” she said.

“As we embark on our next chapter of our journey … let us carry with us with us the values instilled in us during our time here: compassion, empathy and commitment to lifelong learning. Let us continue to strive for excellence in everything we do knowing our dedication has the power to positively impact the lives of countless individuals.”

Princess helps Traci deliver her valedictorian remarks to her classmates and ceremony attendees.
Princess helps Traci deliver her valedictorian remarks to her classmates and ceremony attendees.

What’s next

The students will participate in review sessions before taking their state certification exams.

“We care about you as people; we want you to succeed,” Nora told the graduates.

Princess opened the ceremony by remarking, “Today you’re a CNA, tomorrow an RN. Keep the compassion you have for caring for people.”

Upcoming classes

Applications are closed for the next class, which starts March 4 at the EEE. Students of the Gloucester class graduate Feb. 29 at Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

Applications for the next Gloucester class, which is April 22-May 30, open the end of February. The next Peninsula class will accept applications this spring for its April 29-June 6 session.

Learn more and apply at