Virginia Health Services celebrates National Activity Professionals Week

We are celebrating National Activity Professionals Week (Jan. 23-29) by spotlighting our Activity Directors at Virginia Health Services senior living communities and nursing and rehabilitation centers.

Activity directors run recreation programs that are Resident-focused. Event and activities cater to Residents’ tastes and activity directors receive Residents’ input. The programs help Residents exercise their cognitive, sensory and motor skills.

Activity directors also drive employee engagement within their communities, helping with employee-centered events and activities to bolster morale and provide stress relief.

It’s not just fun and games! As our Activity Directors describe in their Q&As below, they are an integral part of care planning for Residents.

Meet our Activity Directors:

The Arbors Independent Living

Arbors Activity Director Ora Williams headshot

The Arbors Activity Director Ora Williams recently joined us from The Hamilton.

ORA WILLIAMS

Ora Williams has been with Virginia Health Services for about two years. She has been with The Hamilton Assisted Living through this month, and has moved to direct activities at The Arbors Independent Living. She says she loves to have fun with seniors!

She focuses on customer service, respect and love when supporting her fellow team members and Residents. She pays attention to the small details to make sure things go well for Residents and families. Her source of inspiration when planning activities comes from talking to the Residents. She listens to their input in creating calendars that are catered to their needs and interests.

Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Coliseum Activity Director Haley Holland pictured on a mountaintop with her dog Millie.

Coliseum Activity Director Haley Holland often brings in her dog Millie, shown here, to provide pet therapy to Residents and team members.

HALEY HOLLAND

Years with Virginia Health Services: 1.5 years.

What drew you to a career in recreation services in long-term care? When I graduated college, I had no idea what population I wanted to work with. My first job was in an assisted living/memory care facility and I’ve never looked back. Working with older adults is truly my passion!

How do you support the center’s team and Residents? The recreation team at Coliseum is always coming up with fun programs, for Residents and the team members here. Our office door is always open for anyone who wants to pop in and chat. A favorite part of my job is the relationship you get to build with everyone in the facility.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? How active and FUNNY the Residents are. The Residents ALWAYS keep me on my toes.

Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? I’m a huge Pinterest/activity connection supporter. Most of the crafts/games come from there! I usually adapt it in some way to make it better for the Residents. Coliseum is a huge fan of doing “national holidays,” especially when it comes to sweet treats! Our Residents are also a huge inspiration for programs, we like to pull hobbies from their lives and make it a program, for example, flower arranging for our gardeners, or baking for our residents who used to bake.

Personal details: I really enjoy reading, hiking, binge-watching Netflix, and spending time with my husband and dog in my free time!

The Huntington Assisted Living & The Newport Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Huntington and Newport Activity Director April VanDyke, pictured by the Huntington's indoor fireplace.

April VanDyke pulls double-duty, serving as the Activity Director for The Huntington Assisted Living and The Newport Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Newport News.

APRIL VANDYKE

Years with Virginia Health Services: 17.5.

What drew you to a career in recreation services in long-term care? My Mom. She is a nurse and has always worked in long-term care settings. A wonderful trait I have of hers is caring for others. I started off as a CNA with Virginia Health Services and then worked in different areas before activities.

How do you support the center’s team and Residents?  I try to help staff with morale and keep new exciting things going for the residents.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? Activities is different because you get to see and know Residents and sometimes bring out a different side of them than others see.

Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? Social media groups, Pinterest, Residents and co-workers.

Personal details: I have been married for 19 years. I have a 15-year-old son who plays football and I enjoy being his No. 1 fan at all of his games. I have two dogs, Kap and Harley. I enjoy spending time with my family.

James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

James River Activity Director Shawn Hanberry headshot

James River Activity Director Shawn Hanberry starting volunteering with senior populations before high school.

SHAWN HANBERRY

Years with Virginia Health Services: Almost six years. At James River about 25 years all together.

What drew you to a career in recreation services in long-term care? Volunteering. My mother was a CNA at what was called Heritage Place Assisted Living in Poquoson (which is now Dominion Village of Poquoson) in the earlier years of her career and instead of getting a babysitter she would bring me to work with her. I volunteered in the activities department there and when I was in high school, I was a bingo volunteer through the Key Club.

How do you support the center’s team and Residents? Always treat everyone as equals and you will go far.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? The amount of charting.

Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? From my Residents and what they like.

Lancashire Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Lancashire Activity Director Tara Simmons pictured in front of artwork in her office.

Lancashire Activity Director Tara Simmons uses her art background to generate engaging activities for Residents.

TARA SIMMONS

Years with Virginia Health Services: 2 this spring.

What drew you to a career in recreation services in long-term care? I started working in Recreation Services 20 years ago when I saw a job advertising the opportunity to have “fun with seniors” and I could not resist the opportunity. I started as an activity assistant at another local facility here in Lancaster County and moved into a director position over the years. I think it’s incredibly rewarding to be able to be the Residents’ advocate and find ways to make their lives better.

How do you support the center’s team and Residents?  Activity professionals often get to know our Residents and the staff in a different way than most of the team; I can be an ear to listen, a friend to confide in, and a cheerleader to brighten their days.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? The paperwork! I think a lot of folks think activity professionals just play all day. We are more than just the bingo and crayon folks. We have a lot of paperwork that supports the Residents and is required by the state. We attend a lot of important meetings and are heavily involved in advocating for the Residents with Resident Council as well.

Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? With 20 years of doing this job, I use a lot of my history and the community of other activity professionals that are online. Each community is different and what works for one place won’t always work for another. It’s often the Residents at my community who lead to new ideas by expressing what they want!

Personal details: I have my degree in fine art and design and I am often working on my own art projects on the weekends. I have an entire ceramics studio set up in my basement. I am also working on my master’s degree in healthcare administration, so when I am not creating art, I am working hard on my classes.

Northampton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Northampton Activity Director Charlene Craig pictured near her office

Northampton Activity Director Charlene Craig has been with VHS for 32 years.

CHARLENE CRAIG

I have been with Virginia Health Services for 32 years. I started off as a nursing assistant in 1989 then started with activities in 2020.  I am a team player with the staff and enjoy one-on-one visits with Residents, and bringing a smile to everyone’s face. I get my inspiration from my peers. In my spare time, I like to hang out with my dogs and have my own paint business with my man.

Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

JULIE BOOTHE

Hi, I am Julie P. Boothe, the Recreational Director at Walter Reed Nursing and Rehab Center. I am a military brat and moved around/traveled most of my young life both in the US and overseas, I love nature and the outdoors.

Walter Reed Activity Director Julie Boothe's headshot

Walter Reed Activity Director Julie Boothe has community support in many activities and donations for Residents.

I have goats, chickens, turkeys, dogs and cats that keep me very busy. I have been married 40 years and have been blessed with 2 boys and their families. I believe every day is a gift from God and we should enjoy each and every one that he grants us.

I have been with Virginia Health Services for 28 wonderful years. I was drawn to the field by my compassion for the elderly population given to me by God. I help the elderly retain their dignity, lifestyle activities choices and self-worth through visits and activities. My activity team and volunteers engage our residents in activities like bingo, games, socials, music entertainment, gardening and churches (and more) within the facility. Then out in the community we eat out, go to movies, go shopping, cookouts, picnics, fishing trips and even see the Christmas lights.

One of our big trips was going out with the Coast Guard on their ship and being served lunch cooked up by their chef. We also did some fishing. Our community is a big part of our activity program and I so greatly appreciate their involvement. The stories the Residents share are funny and interesting. I remember talking to a resident in the past about Route 17 and she remembered when it was a dirt road. Another resident remembers seeing a vehicle for the first time coming over a hill and not knowing they even existed. By talking with the Residents, you find out what they like to do which is where a lot of your inspirations and ideas come from. It is fun comparing the past with the present. It has truly been a pleasure being a part of the Walter Reed family. Looking forward to the future.

York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

York Activity Director Mary Garrity headshot

York Activity Director Mary Garrity helped deliver gifts to Residents at Christmas.

MARY GARRITY

Years with Virginia Health Services: 5 (in March).

What drew you to a career in recreation services in long-term care? The elderly have always had a place in my heart. I started my career at a senior center 20-plus years ago and have worked in several long-term facilities. I love to see the Residents happy and smiling, I love to challenge the Residents with word games and trivia, and I love to see the Residents dancing and singing

How do you support the center’s team and Residents? I support the team by helping where ever I can, having dress-down days, games and contests for the staff and Residents. We have become family and do whatever they need or want.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? Of all the many hats we wear, we help by serving meals, getting water for the Residents, being a good listener … all the little things that Residents need, including decorating for Christmas and other holidays.

Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? From the Residents’ likes and dislikes. Every facility is different and has different cultures. I use online resources like Activity Connection and share ideas with other activity professionals

Personal details: I love going to the beach, reading, interior decorating and furniture restoration.

Healthy lifestyle begins with ‘power-half hour’ of chair exercises

The Residents at The Arbors Independent Living are getting an assist in staying active.

VHS Rehabilitation tech Kim Kutscher leads a chair exercise class with a group of Residents daily in The Arbors community room.

“It’s a head-to-toe program with cardio,” she says. “A true power half-hour!”

Hamilton residents do leg lifts during chair exercise class

Hamilton residents do leg lifts during chair exercise class

Kutscher, who has been with Virginia Health Services for 17 years, also leads a class twice a week at The Hamilton Assisted Living in York County.

“It’s booming right now,” she said. “There’s quite a few who come to class on a regular basis.”

There are about 10 for Kutscher’s class at The Arbors on a recent weekday morning. Some arrive early to chat with her and get their pick of seats in the community room.

Kutscher said the benefit of group classes is a camaraderie develops among the participants. Some participants who have caregivers are sometimes assisted as they go through the exercises.

The Arbors Residents, since the COVID-19 pandemic began, hang onto their equipment: a theraband, ball and hand weights. Kutscher said some Residents use the equipment and exercise sheet she provides to continue their work on the weekends.

Residents at The Arbors lift an arm in the air with a hand weight.

Hand weights are a recent addition to chair exercise classes at The Arbors Independent Living.

If one-on-one therapy is needed, participants are encouraged to use VHS Rehab and VHS Home Health Care. Kutscher strictly provides group sessions, seeking the advice of VHS physical therapists about adding certain exercises to the program when needed.

She says that if someone is seated for long periods of time, even if they aren’t in class, they should focus on ankle and leg work “to keep them strengthening and prevent atrophy.” Muscles can get weak, making it difficult to move from a seated to a standing position.

Her class works from the feet up, all the way through finger movement, shoulder rolls and deep breaths to close out the class.

Sixth Virginia Health Services apprenticeship cohort graduates

The sixth cohort of Virginia Health Services apprentices graduated Tuesday at The Arbors at Port Warwick. The group began its earn-as-you-learn training program in early November.

The program includes classroom and clinical instruction to graduate Care Assistants to Nurse Aides.

Tuesday’s eight graduates will work in Virginia Health Services nursing and rehabilitation centers at York and Northampton.

The education staff will help schedule review sessions and certification exams for them to become CNAs.

It was instructor Nora Gillespie’s last full-time CNA class. She is working with instructor Princess Henderson on transitioning teaching responsibilities.

“You guys are sending me off on the best possible note,” she told the graduates.

Nikkya Cohens delivers her valedictorian remarks with the support of her classmates and instructor Nora Gillespie

Nikkya Cohens delivers her valedictorian remarks with the support of her classmates and instructor Nora Gillespie.

The graduates

Gillespie, as she has for the previous five graduations, spoke in superlatives about the students to friends and family in attendance.

She told the graduates she is proud of them, and that they demonstrated to her they have a willingness to do what it takes in the role.

“These women had each other’s backs,” she said. “They helped each other get across the finish line.”

Gillespie called valedictorian Nikkya Cohens a “role model” in awarding her a certificate.

“I’ve never met a bunch of women that allow me to be me. Women can be challenging to be around in large numbers and they were not that. They were supportive and extremely funny and that’s a value I always cherish. They ooze camaraderie in every sense of the word. Their spirit stays with me after class,” Cohens said in her valedictorian remarks.

Brittany Hodges gets a hug from instructor Nora Gillespie during the graduation ceremony Dec. 7, 2021.

Brittany Hodges gets a hug from instructor Nora Gillespie during the graduation ceremony Dec. 7, 2021.

VHS Vice President of Operations Don Lundin delivered opening remarks, saying Virginia Health Services is glad to be a part of their education and career journeys.

“This is the beginning, the first step,” he said.

Gillespie, who has likened the program to “CNA bootcamp,” explained that there are 14 tests and 22 skills the students learn over the five-week span.

“You nailed 22 skills,” she told the graduates, “and I couldn’t be more proud.”

She calls CNAs the foundation of long-term care. Their role means they interact most with Residents and are the eyes and ears for the nursing staff on the floor.

“To do the job, you have to heart and compassion,” she said. The students’ “first intent was to bring joy when you entered a Resident’s room.”

The class could be found wiping their eyes any number of times during the ceremony.

“I always make people cry,” Gillespie said.

The graduates were: Cohens, salutatorian Josie Wood, Giavanni Bailey, Brittany Hodges, Quentisha Norvell, Hope Overton, Shayla Shupin and Tomeka Williams.

“You can change a life, you can touch a life,” Gillespie said.

VHS apprenticeship program

The VHS earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program is part of the Healthcare Apprenticeship Extension Program, which is partially funded by a grant from the Department of Labor.

Apprenticeship students are brought on as Care Assistants and spend about 30 days working in a VHS nursing and rehabilitation center before coursework and clinicals begin. Following completion of the classes, students then return to work at a facility and undergo review sessions to prepare for the state certification exam to become a Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA).

The apprenticeship program covers the cost of the course and clinical work, and the cost of the exam. It also provides the benefit of Family Scholarship House, which can offer resources and funds to help cover academic coaching, affordable housing, transportation, child care, emergencies and more. It is available to those in the HAEP grant program at no additional cost.

The VHS apprenticeship program recently expanded to include pathways in dietary and housekeeping.

Previous cohorts graduated in AprilJuneJuly, September and October.

Learn more about the program here.

Applications to the program are accepted on a rolling basis. To apply, visit our job listing.

Long-time volunteers with Virginia Health Services find purpose in service

A near lifetime of community service for Martha and Jerry Dodson was put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The contagion prevented the Dodsons from their usual rounds of facility-based volunteer activities, and for the most part suspended their annual 40-plus year tradition of being Santa and Mrs. Claus at nursing homes on the Peninsula.

The Dodsons are happy to be back into the swing of things again. It’s their most wonderful time of the year.

They have already presented gifts to Residents at The Newport, and have visits to The Huntington, The Hamilton and York on the books.

The Dodsons were some of the first volunteers back into Virginia Health Services’ facilities. They host crafts projects at The Huntington, resuming those visits in June.

Vaccinations, the use of PPE and changes to federal guidelines in regard to visitation in long-term care facilities have allowed VHS to welcome back volunteers.

Martha and Jerry Dodson

Martha and Jerry Dodson have volunteered at The Newport and Huntington for at least 10 years.

Volunteer hiatus

While the world paused, Martha said she “missed feeling like I had a purpose.” Jerry nodded along with the sentiment.

She tapped into her arts and crafts background and started creating greeting cards during the time away. Even while the distribution of them was on hold, she said she started to feel like she had a purpose again.

Martha and members from her recently created painting group and members of the Junior Women’s Club of Hilton Village – of which Jerry is an honorary member as well – created nearly 100 cards to share with Residents at the Huntington and other nursing facilities in the area.

Jerry Dodson speaks with a Resident

Jerry Dodson speaks to a Huntington Resident during craft time.

All of the VHS communities need volunteers to help with programs or to provide entertainment and fellowship to their Residents.

“Volunteering doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of time or money,” Martha said.

There are all kinds of ways you can volunteer, whether it’s by creating a card, volunteering to help with a craft project, or making a phone call.

“We fill in the gaps,” Jerry said. “We had so many relatives – and that’s OK, we don’t have any children – because Residents thought we were family.”

Martha added, “You just develop relationships, connect with folks, you know?”

Long history of volunteering

The Dodsons have more than 40 years developing those connections on the Peninsula. In addition to their Santa and Mrs. Claus gigs, which take them to nursing homes from Williamsburg to York County, Newport News and Hampton, they have been hospital clowns and Jerry often visits as the Easter Bunny.

Martha Dodson does a craft with a resident at The Huntington

Martha Dodson and her husband Jerry resumed volunteering at The Huntington in June.

Martha and Jerry have volunteered at The Huntington and The Newport for at least 10 years. They also do deliveries with Meals on Wheels, Jerry tends the grounds and landscaping at their church, and Martha has spent several years volunteering with a first-grade class (when in session).

It’s a volunteer opportunity she landed as a result of the people she networked with while volunteering at The Huntington.

Before building access was restricted because of the pandemic, Martha hosted craft projects once a month at The Huntington, and, often, The Newport.

Jerry was on the original board for the Peninsula Agency on Aging (and still is on the membership board), and worked as a social worker and in Adult Protective Services for the City of Hampton before retiring.

Volunteering was ingrained in him at a young age. Jerry’s father was in Lions Club, and Jerry saw his parents volunteer at schools. The torch was passed, he said.

He and Martha met as members of the first four-year graduating class at Christopher Newport University in Newport News. That class celebrated its 50th anniversary over the summer.

The Dodsons encourage volunteering in a nursing and rehabilitation center.

“When (the Residents) have a visitor, it’s a bright spot during the day. And it might only be for 30 seconds,” Martha said.

The Residents appreciate having someone to talk to, Jerry said.

Volunteers needed

All of Virginia Health Services’ communities are rebuilding their volunteer programs.

Church and youth groups, school service organizations, Greek life and other college organizations, and individuals are needed to help facilitate activities and provide social interaction and support to Residents.

Applications are being accepted at all VHS facilities. Criminal background checks, PPD tests and proof of the COVID-19 vaccination are asked of those who volunteer in a building consistently more than 10 hours a week.

Contact the facility nearest you to apply and discuss options with the Activities team.

Volunteer locations

Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Address: 305 Marcella Road, Hampton, Virginia 23666

Phone: 757-827-8953

The Hamilton Assisted Living

Address: 113 Battle Road, Yorktown, Virginia 23692

Phone number: 757-243-8559

The Huntington Assisted Living

Address: 11143 Warwick Blvd., Newport News, Virginia 23601

Phone: 757-223-0888

James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Address: 540 Aberthaw Ave., Newport News, Virginia 23601

Phone: 757-595-2273

Lancashire Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Address: 287 School St., Kilmarnock, Virginia 22482

Phone: 804-435-1684

The Newport Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Address: 11141 Warwick Blvd., Newport News, Virginia 23601

Phone: 757-595-3733

Northampton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Address: 1028 Topping Lane, Hampton, Virginia 23666

Phone: 757-826-4922

Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Address: 7602 Meredith Drive, Gloucester Courthouse, Virginia 23061

Phone: 804-693-6503

York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Address: 113 Battle Road, Yorktown, Virginia 23692

Phone: 757-898-1491

Virginia Health Services apprentices reflect on experience so far

National Apprenticeship Week is Nov. 15-21. Virginia Health Services used the week to highlight graduates from the Care Assistant to Nurse Aide earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program.

The apprenticeship includes paid training and covers the cost of the state certification exam to be a CNA.

The program has had five classes graduate this year, with a sixth cohort currently in progress. Students get about a month of paid classroom and clinical training, and VHS employs graduates in our nursing and rehabilitation centers following graduation.

The success of the program has led to Virginia Health Services developing a full Career Advancement Program (CAP) to grow its workforce in culinary and environmental services as well with additional paid training and leadership development.

This week, current employees in culinary and environmental services were invited to partake in the program.

Virginia Health Services participates in the Healthcare Apprenticeship Expansion Program (HAEP), which is funded with a Department of Labor grant. The apprenticeship offers paid, on-the-job training.

Our graduates

Michael Polite, James River

VHS apprentice Michael PoliteMichael Polite is a Nurse Aide at James River Convalescent and Rehabilitation Center. He started in environmental services at James River, then enrolled in the apprenticeship program.

He says he was drawn to senior care after helping care for his grandmother.

The September graduate is studying for the state boards, and is confident he’ll pass because of his training with VHS instructor Nora Gillespie. The training program includes classwork and learning 22 clinical skills.

“You use everything she teaches you,” he said of his daily routine. “She really emphasizes dignity and respect, and so if I can put a smile (on a Resident’s face), when I walk out of the room, I feel like I’ve done my job.”

Jessica Campbell & Devyn Hotop, CNAs, The Newport

Jessica Campbell and Devyn Hotop are CNAs at The Newport. They were in the third apprenticeship cohort that graduated in July and they passed their certification exam in September.

Hotop, the class salutatorian, said being in the program made her realize she wants to be in healthcare.

“I think what really stood out was clinical (skills on the floor),” Hotop said. “and just how happy everybody was with our care and the way they are doing. And the patients were just motivating us throughout the whole process. I think that made me feel good. I want to be here, it made me want to do it. And definitely having the help from one another.”

Campbell and Hotop bonded fast in class and now as coworkers. They rely on one another during shifts and like working together. Both say they can hear instructor Nora Gillespie’s voice in the back of their minds, encouraging them and walking them through all the steps they learned in class.

Both say they feel supported in their roles at The Newport. Campbell and Hotop said their CNA training has them interested in pursuing nursing career paths as an LPN or RN.

“It’s all worth it,” Hotop said.

Donae Mcdonald, York

Donae Mcdonald is a Nurse Aide at York Convalescent and Rehabilitation Center. She was in the fifth cohort and graduated in October.

Mcdonald’s class was co-taught by instructors Nora Gillespie and Princess Henderson. They made an impact on her. “Ms. Nora and Princess are great teachers and VHS has a good program,” she said.

It was the earn-as-you-learn paid training that Mcdonald said drew her to the opportunity. She is exploring nursing school options, and enrolled in pre-requisite classes with Thomas Nelson Community College.

She says the apprenticeship program is “a great opportunity because at first you are here (as a Care Assistant) and shadowing a Nurse Aide, and I feel like at that point you can see if there’s something that is beneficial for you.”

Dana Turner, CNA, York

VHS apprentice Dana TurnerDana Turner, who is a CNA at York, was in the third cohort and graduated in July.

Instructor Nora Gillespie said she was like bubbles and champagne, with her positivity just radiating out toward the Residents she worked with on the floor during clinicals.

She’s still bubbly now, having passed her certification exam and fulfilling a dream decades in the making. After spending more than 10 years housekeeping in hospitality, she is working in senior care as a CNA.

“I have wanted to do this forever, but I never could afford to not get paid 4-to-6 weeks taking a class. There wasn’t a program like this,” she said.

She also has a little seasoning now, and with experience comes perspective. She likes working with current students who are working on their clinical skills at York. She likes helping the Care Assistants learn the ropes.

And Turner knows empathy is key to doing the job well. “I just try to find ways not to make (the Residents) feel so bad (about not being able to do things for themselves),” she said. “It’s why I’m here!”

Turner said the program, particularly the instruction provided, is a great way to start in healthcare.

“I just love it!” she says.

Culinary and EVS apprentices

This week, we invited team members in our culinary and environmental services departments to participate in paid training and leadership development as part of VHS’ expanding Career Advancement Program. Team members from Coliseum, James River and corporate fill out the first field of apprentices in those areas.

Apprenticeships available

A career in healthcare could be the right fit for you, too. Learn more about Virginia Health Services’ career opportunities at vahs.com/heroes.

Virginia Health Services CNA apprenticeship program adds instructor

Virginia Health Services’ apprenticeship program, which graduates Care Assistants to eventual Certified Nurse Assistants (CNAs), is undergoing a transition in instructors.

The VHS education team is adding instructor Princess Henderson, who has been with the company since 2008.

She is being guided on the ins and outs of the apprenticeship class by instructor Nora Gillespie, who after a career in nursing and education, is retiring.

Well, semi-retiring. Gillespie says she’ll be focused on education for VHS two days a week.

Ann Armstrong, who instructed the apprenticeship classes on the Middle Peninsula, also is leaving. She joins Rappahannock Community College as an instructor for their Nurse Aide program and will lead instruction for their clinical LPN and RN programs.

That means she won’t be far – the LPN and RN programs train at VHS’s Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Gloucester.

The coursework was revamped earlier this year by Gillespie and Armstrong based on the state’s criterium changes. Gillespie refers to it as a “bootcamp.”

The students have to go through pages of presentations, tests and learn 22 clinical skills, such as how to take blood pressure and wound care.

The fifth apprenticeship class is slated to graduate Oct. 26, with the sixth class to start Nov. 1. It will be the last group of apprentices for the year – another class is slated to start in January.

This class

Armstrong’s final day with VHS was Oct. 14. Her students in this fifth cohort completed their coursework and clinicals, working while awaiting graduation.

The 11 students enrolled at Walter Reed and at the EEE Center in Newport News will work as Nurse Aides at James River, Coliseum and Walter Reed while completing their certification exam reviews to become CNAs.

Ann Armstrong had three students in her class at Walter Reed

Virginia Health Services’ fifth cohort of CNA apprentices graduates Oct. 26, 2021. There were three students at Walter Reed Convalescent and Rehabilitation Center in this cohort.

“They’ve been great,” Armstrong said of her three students. “I’ve learned a lot from them, that’s for sure.”

Teaching is getting to know someone. “I wanted them to succeed, and they have,” Armstrong said.

“It’s amazing to see when someone comes here with no (clinical) knowledge, then they leave this classroom with the skills. Amazing to see someone learn; to see that lightbulb go off.”

Armstrong has been a nurse for 23 years, and an instructor since 2017. She joined VHS about a year ago from Riverside.

Her advice to students, current and future: “Study. Be open. Healthcare is ever changing. Be open to change. Do the right thing every time. You do that, you cannot make a mistake.”

Teaching the course during the COVID-19 pandemic has meant adjusting, Gillespie said. Infection prevention is covered on the first day, and that now includes emphasis on COVID and the proper way to wear the additional layers of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Students are tested regularly and encouraged to be vaccinated. They come into class with familiarity, having learned to navigate the precautions in their buildings while working the floor as Care Assistants.

The future

The sixth class will be led by Henderson.

Henderson has been with VHS since 2008, and she took the course then while pregnant to become a CNA.

“It’s a lot different!” she said.

Princess Henderson is learning how to teach the apprenticeship class

Princess Henderson is learning how to teach the apprenticeship class from instructor Nora Gillespie. Virginia Health Services’ fifth cohort of CNA apprentices graduates Oct. 26, 2021.

“The program has evolved. It’s come out of the ‘Dark Ages.’ It’s so much better and easier to understand. … I did it back when you had to pay for the class.”

How the course material is presented and how clinical skills are taught are “more effective,” Henderson said.

“She’s a role model,” Gillespie said.

Henderson became an RN, moving up through the ranks with Virginia Health Services to become Assistant Director of Nursing at Coliseum. Her career has been dedicated to long-term care with VHS. She worked at James River and the team worked with her as she went through nursing school to help schedule her shifts with her classes.

“I’m glad to be with VHS,” she said. “They really worked with me, and I plan to stay with them as they work with me to meet my goals.”

One of those goals has been to go into education. She views Gillespie as the role model.

“I strive to be as inspirational and firm as her,” Henderson said. “Firm but fair.”

“My goal truly is for her is not to need me, because then I’ve done my job,” Gillespie said.

Words of wisdom

While Henderson’s addition is a win for the education team, the departures of Gillespie and Armstrong sting.

They built out the current program with Director of Education Bryanna Rhodes earlier this year, and both have been instructors for several years.

“I can tell them a whole bunch of stuff,” Armstrong said of teaching students information off PowerPoint slides, “But I also can give them the real-life experience. … People can relate better when you make it reality.”

While Armstrong handled teaching in-services and more at Riverside, Gillespie helped her feel at ease with the material when she joined Virginia Health Services.

“Nora is a great instructor, she’s the real deal,” Armstrong said. “She’s awesome at what she does. I hate to see her go. She is one of the best instructors I have ever seen teach this class.”

But Gillespie is ready to retire – if for no other reason than to not have to wake up at 4:30 a.m.

She says that with a grin, though. Gillespie became a nurse in the 1970s. She worked in critical and acute care, including on a Nightingale air ambulance.

“That was the best,” she said. “I still have my combat boots.”

Gillespie said she is content passing the torch to Henderson.

“In my career, I know I have saved lives. In teaching, I know I have touched lives. And I am good with that,” she said.

Part of her hand-off to Henderson is helping her understand all that is involved in teaching the class – its organization, flow, schedule and timing.

It’s also helping her learn to be an instructor, looking for that spark to ignite someone to learn a skill or grasp material. It’s helping Henderson feel comfortable on being flexible to the needs of the class and being able to adjust to help students “get it.”

Gillespie has spent seven years teaching this class. “It’s a part of me,” she said. “The program is very important to me, and I see tremendous benefit in this program. VHS is committed to it.”

“Princess shares my desire to bring out the best of students,” Gillespie said. “Princess is open, friendly, she has a smile that lights up a room and a grasp of what to do.”

Henderson appreciates having Gillespie train her.

“She’s involving me in the class and has had me do tasks to get me ready. It’s been a lot of organization, learning how to keep up with their records. Then it all comes back around to developing relationships with the students and show them how to bring what they’ve learned to how it applies to their patients.”

Instructor Nora Gillespie is congratulated by the fourth class of graduates

Instructor Nora Gillespie is congratulated by the fourth class of graduates during a ceremony in September.

Retirement, for real this time

Gillespie has threatened to retire for about a year, but had difficulty stepping away from the class she has taught for seven years and helped revamp.

Her students recognize her impact. The two previous apprenticeship classes honored her at graduation ceremonies with T-shirts of her best phrases, a retirement banner and gifts — so many meaningful gifts, such as a framed selfie she let them photograph her in.

She says she doesn’t know how to be any other way, in how she teaches and how she treats others.

“You need to bring joy,” Gillespie tells students. “You see individuals when their bodies have betrayed them. You have to treat them with respect and dignity. Being kind should not be hard.”

She’s at peace with the timing of her retirement this time.

“I can walk away with a smile on my face.”

VHS apprenticeship program

The apprenticeship program is a great opportunity, Armstrong said.

“They’re getting paid to learn. That’s a huge incentive.”

There have been more than 40 enrollees in the apprenticeship program since its launch in March. The VHS earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program is part of the Healthcare Apprenticeship Extension Program, which is partially funded by a grant from the Department of Labor.

Apprenticeship students are brought on as Care Assistants and spend about 30 days working in a VHS nursing and rehabilitation center before coursework and clinicals begin. Following completion of the classes, students then return to work at a facility and undergo review sessions to prepare for the state certification exam to become a Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA).

The apprenticeship program covers the cost of the course and clinical work, and the cost of the exam. It also provides the benefit of Family Scholarship House, which can offer resources and funds to help cover academic coaching, affordable housing, transportation, child care, emergencies and more. It is available to those in the HAEP grant program at no additional cost.

The VHS apprenticeship program has plans to expand, including pathways for LPNs, and in pharmaceutical, dietary, housekeeping, and administration and leadership.

Previous cohorts graduated in AprilJune, July and September.

Learn more about the program here.

Applications to the program are accepted on a rolling basis. To apply, visit our job listing.

Virginia Health Services offers education staff and resources to help develop nursing careers

This week, Virginia Health Services honors Nursing Professional Development Week.

Virginia Health Services has a long history of encouraging development of its team members and promoting from within. View our job opportunities, and know that development is a priority at VHS.

The education team at VHS offers a variety of services to its nursing staff.

Director of Team Member Engagement Kathryn Fisher also can help connect team members to assistance, scholarship opportunities and nursing programs that offer discounts to VHS employees.

The investment in development of our nursing professionals at Virginia Health Services extends beyond our earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program.

A cornerstone program at the Education, Enrichment, Employment (EEE) Center in Port Warwick, the HAEP apprenticeship offers Care Assistants paid training to graduate to Nurse Aides. The apprenticeship also covers the cost of the certification exam.

It includes wrap-around services through Family Scholar House, which can offer resources and funds to help cover academic coaching, affordable housing, transportation, child care, emergencies and more. It is offered to those in the HAEP grant program at no additional charge throughout the course of the year of their apprenticeship.

VHS Director of Education Bryanna Rhodes said the team at the EEE offers review sessions before Nurse Aide certification exams, which include a written test and mock skills assessments.

In-house development opportunities

Nora Gillespie and Bryanna Rhodes hug during remarks at the July apprenticeship graduation ceremony.

Nora Gillespie and Bryanna Rhodes hug during remarks at the July apprenticeship graduation ceremony.

The education team also can offer prep assistance for individuals in a RN program by request.

The team also offers knowledge-based in-services and addresses pressure areas in facilities, such as setting up IV labs, PPE demos and other training. CPR certification training is offered at EEE.

The education team also is the first group to try out new equipment and deliver training.

It also welcomes new employees at orientation.

Get started

In pursuing a nursing pathway, Rhodes said talking to the education team is a “good starting point.”

The team can help with school selection and get the process going.

Cerissa Atkins, VHS Process Improvement Manager, said being prepared and setting a timeline is key. “Don’t delay,” she said of starting the process. Deciding where to go, finding financial assistance and applying takes time.

Rhodes said often the VHS facilities’ schedulers will help accommodate school schedules and be flexible with individuals on development pathways.

“The passion has to be there to work in long-term care,” Atkins said.

Pathways

There are several pathways that can lead to increased salary and professional satisfaction.

Starting as a CNA can develop into a nursing career as a RN or LPN, an educator or a long-term care facility administrator.

Fisher can help individuals manage VHS’ tuition assistance and reimbursement policies, research scholarship opportunities and connect individuals with schools that might be a good fit and/or offer discounted tuition to VHS team members.

“VHS has the flexibility to believe in you,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes joined VHS in December as an educator after working six years as an acute care nurse in an emergency room. She was promoted to director of education a few months after starting.

“You can really grow in a family-centered environment at VHS,” Atkins said.

Virginia Health Services celebrates its Residents for National Assisted Living Week

This week we are highlighting Residents in Virginia Health Services’ assisted living communities as part of National Assisted Living Week.

The communities provide medical assistance to those who need help with ADLs (activities of daily living) while still maintaining independence in a private apartment home.

The Huntington at Newport and The Hamilton at The York offer these senior living options in comfortable, spacious private rooms in Newport News and York County.

Learn more about our Residents and their experiences below.

Living at The Huntington

Elaine Amnott

Elaine Amnott at The HuntingtonElaine Amnott joined The Huntington community in May 2020.

She spent time recovering from a stroke at The Newport and Huntington, where she worked with a speech therapist to learn how to talk again.

“I felt like I was in school. … The therapist was very good. She taught me and I got my speech back,” Mrs. Amnott said.

“I learned independence here – learned I can do more than I thought I could,” she said.

She was born in Newport News, but soon moved to the family tobacco farm in Morehead City, N.C.

“I was a tomboy, through and through,” she says.

She worked for six years as a profiler for the FBI in the 1960s. It’s where she met her husband, Roland John Amnott.

After spending six years with the FBI in Washington, D.C., she and her husband returned to his family home in Maine where they settled for 20 years.

They retired to Florida until Roland Amnott passed away. Elaine Amnott moved back to Newport News at the insistence of her niece who lives here and she has called The Huntington home since May 2020.

Wendy Malvin

Wendy MalvinWendy Malvin will try to tell you she’s lived at The Huntington “forever.”

She moved in July 2019.

“They treat you really well here,” she said. “They take care of your needs. The food is great.”

Originally from Morehead City, N.C., Mrs. Malvin moved to Newport News when she married her husband, a native of the area, after attending Mary Washington College.

“I love being in Newport News. It’s been my home a long time,” she said.

She was a legal secretary for the law firm of Jones, Blechman, Woltz and Kelly for more than 30 years. She also took on a volunteer administrative director role with People to People, an organization founded by one of the attorneys, Herbert V. Kelly, current Newport News Mayor McKinley Price and other civic leaders in 1992.

People to People worked to improve race relations in the city. Mrs. Malvin was featured in the Daily Press in February 2001 after being honored with People to People’s first Hero Award for her service to the organization. She keeps the clip framed in her apartment at The Huntington.

Ada Ward

Ada WardAda Ward considers herself a “pro” about assisted living communities. She helped her mother, who lived until age 97, navigate moving into assisted living.

“They truly get it right,” she said of The Huntington. The management is considerate and attentive to Residents’ needs.

One of Mrs. Ward’s daughters lives nearby, and she likes the proximity to her family. She appreciates the sense of safety and security Huntington offers.

“I’m very impressed … This is tops,” she said. She moved into the Huntington in February from another assisted living community.

Mrs. Ward is originally from Hampton, and was a buyer for Leggett department stores. She stepped away from that to bring up three children. Her late husband, Don Ward, worked for NASA on the Apollo space program. He spent much of 20 years commuting between NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton and Cape Canaveral, Florida.

“It was a very exciting time for us,” she said.

Everette White

Everette WhiteEverette White is glad to not have to move. After spending a career in the Air Force, he retired after being stationed at Langley AFB in Hampton and has called The Huntington home since October 2015.

He was an entomologist for the Air Force, retiring in 1970 after 21.5 years of service. He then worked in pest control and fumigation in Hampton.

He served in Korea and Vietnam, and he and his family – late wife Mary, a son and two daughters — lived in the Midwest, Morocco, Oklahoma, Germany and Spain during his time in the Air Force.

“We traveled all over Europe,” he said of their being stationed abroad.

“And I’ll never forget, my wife and kids flew into Casablanca dressed for Michigan winter. It was 109 degrees when they got off the plane.”

One of his daughters now lives in Illinois, and his other daughter lives nearby in Hampton, as do some of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. His son passed away.

“I didn’t want to move again,” he said of selecting The Huntington. “I like it here.”

Living at The Hamilton

Rose Marie Hopkins

Rose Marie HopkinsRose Marie Hopkins joined The Hamilton community in October 2019. She moved in following the passing of her husband, Gerald Ray Hopkins in July 2019.

Gerald Ray was the love of her life – they were married for 74 years.

Mrs. Hopkins was born in 1928 in Seaford, Virginia, to a Chesapeake Bay waterman and a stay-at-home mom. Her childhood was spent going to school, playing in the creek and spending time with friends and family.

She graduated from Jeffs High School in 1944 and was named “Prettiest Girl” by her senior classmates. (Jeffs is now Poquoson High School). Back in those days, there were no high schools in York County so Mrs. Hopkins had to travel to Poquoson to complete her education.

After graduating high school, Mrs. Hopkins went to work for the federal government at Naval Weapons Station Yorktown. She learned bookkeeping and was hired to work for the Office of the Comptroller.  After the birth of her four children, Mrs. Hopkins stayed home to care for her family for the next 25 years. When her youngest child was 12, she returned to her career at the Office of the Comptroller and was ultimately promoted to Supervisor.

Mrs. Hopkins’ life has always been focused on three things: faith, family and food.

Her family was a source of joy but also a lot of work!

She has always been the backbone of the family, providing loving care and support as her family grew and thrived. Her cooking ability is legendary and she passed on many of her skills in the kitchen to her children and grandchildren.

Mrs. Hopkins is also a devout Christian and spent many years working in her church, conducting the children’s choir, singing with the adult choir, working with the annual church bazaar and serving on many committees.

She has been a member of Zion United Methodist her entire life and still attends services there.

We are glad to help Mrs. Hopkins call The Hamilton in York County home. She enjoys the outings to restaurants and museums, and visits from her loved ones.

Virginia Health Services graduates fourth class of Nurse Aide apprentices

The graduation ceremony Thursday looked a little different.

Fourth class graduates Virginia Health Services apprenticeship program

Apprentice graduation was streamed on Zoom and had limited in-person attendance.

The hybrid ceremony was streamed on Zoom, with limited in-person attendance at Virginia Health Services’ Employment, Enrichment, Education (EEE) Center in Port Warwick.

It was done to minimize risk, given rising COVID cases in the community. Each graduate was allowed one in-person attendee.

The eight apprentices graduated from Care Assistants to Nurse Aides following a vigorous classroom and clinical “boot camp.”

Six will work in Virginia Health Services facilities before taking their state certification exam to be CNAs.

The graduates are: Lindsey Valdivia (valedictorian), Maiah Banks (salutatorian), Regina Benson, Latoria Cofield, Shavonte Gary, Jessica Johnson, Shalayia Johnson and Michael Polite.

The camaraderie at every graduation is always evident – these students have spent a lot of time doing hard work together – and there are always heartfelt moments.

None more so Thursday than when the graduates added a surprise ending to the ceremony for instructor Nora Gillespie. As her solo last class before she (semi) retires, they walked out with a “Happy Retirement” banner, gifts and cake.

A fifth class – with students at Walter Reed Convalescent and Rehabilitation Center and the EEE – begins next week. Gillespie will teach her cohort at the EEE with a new instructor, handing off full-time teaching responsibilities before retiring.

The graduates are: Lindsey Valdivia (valedictorian), Maiah Banks (salutatorian), Regina Benson, Latoria Cofield, Shavonte Gary, Jessica Johnson, Shalayia Johnson and Michael Polite.

Virginia Health Services CEO Mark Klyczek addresses graduates.

Virginia Health Services CEO Mark Klyczek addresses the graduates Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021.

Start of the journey

Virginia Health Services President and CEO Mark Klyczek opened the ceremony with remarks, congratulating the graduates.

“This is an important step in your career journey,” he said, “but it isn’t your only one. … There are so many options in healthcare today. …

“Go down the path that you think will get you the furthest in the long haul.”

Gillespie said it was an “intense journey” to get to graduation. The class has to get through 14 tests and learn and execute 22 skills.

“You were all up to the task,” she said. “You all said on the first day you had the heart and compassion to do this, and you demonstrated it in clinicals.”

The class did its clinical work at York Convalescent and Rehabilitation Center.

The graduates

Fourth class graduates Virginia Health Services apprenticeship program

Instructor Nora Gillespie hugs student Michael Polite.

Gillespie is never speechless when it comes to celebrating her students. She piles on the platitudes because the students earn them. She is very proud of the students she instructs.

Benson, Gillespie said, found her focus and “knocked clinicals out of the park.”

Cofield comes from a family of Virginia Health Services team members. She “glowed on the unit” during clinicals, Gillespie said. She also received Gillespie’s heart superlative, which goes to the student who gives their all in the clinical environment. Cofield “beamed,” Gillespie said. “It made me speechless.”

Gary, who is moving with her family to Texas, “talks fast and was in it to win it.” Her instruction will carry over to apply to take the certification exam in Texas.

Jessica Johnson “sat up front, center and gave 100%,” Gillespie said, adding, “You said from the start it’s in your heart and in your blood to do this.”

Shalayia Johnson didn’t let anything stop her from being in class and getting the work done, Gillespie said.

Fourth class graduates from Virginia Health Services apprenticeship program

Salutatorian Maiah Banks receives her certificate.

Polite was “determined to be successful,” she said. He earned her clinical superlative. “There was no attitude. It was always, ‘I’m on it, Ms. Nora.’ The Residents loved you.”

Banks, the salutatorian, was accepted to and started nursing school in the RN program at ECPI while finishing her class. Gillespie said she “thrived in the clinical environment.” The class, Gillespie said, set Banks up to be “an excellent nurse.”

Fourth class graduates Virginia Health Services apprenticeship program

Valedictorian Lindsey Valdivia receives her certificate from instructor Nora Gillespie and VHS CEO Mark Klyczek.

Valedictorian honors grandmother

Valedictorian Lindsey Valdivia sat in the back, Gillespie said. “Her heart is pretty amazing.”

She had perfect attendance, and top marks in class and clinicals. She also, Gillespie said, “is an outstanding individual.” She offered words of encouragement to her classmates, got snacks when the class ran out and made sure the students who had to sit out a few days after possible COVID exposure didn’t get behind.

“I’m glad to have met you,” Gillespie said. “You all benefited from what (Valdivia) did.”

Fourth class graduates Virginia Health Services apprenticeship program

Valedictorian Lindsey Valdivia honored her late grandmother wearing a scrub top with her image on it. “I know she’s with me here,” she said.

Her comments were met with applause and agreement.

Valdivia’s grandmother, who she was very close to, passed away a little over a week before graduation.

“So I decided to bring her with me,” Valdivia said, pointing to her scrub top with an image of her. “I know she’s here with me.”

“Your grandmother would be very proud of who you are,” Gillespie said.

Valdivia thanked Virginia Health Services for the opportunity in her valedictorian remarks.

“It encourages a lot of people to go further in their careers and their lives,” she said. “They made us realize our value.”

She recommended no matter what, finish what you start and “whatever you do, do it to the best you can.”

Valdivia said she got into healthcare because she saw what aging had done to her grandparents and she wanted to be an asset to others’ families dealing with aging loved ones.

Turning to Gillespie, she said, “And we couldn’t have asked for a better teacher. … She made sure we understood what she taught us. She was very patient and kind. She cared about us.”

Fourth class graduates Virginia Health Services apprenticeship program

The class carried in a retirement banner to celebrate instructor Nora Gillespie.

Retirement surprise!

The graduates stole the show at the end, rendering Gillespie speechless. To honor her impending retirement, they carried out a banner, gifts and a cake.

Fourth class graduates Virginia Health Services apprenticeship program

Instructor Nora Gillespie was rendered speechless by the retirement cake from her students.

“I’ve been trying to retire (for years),” she said, “but I keep coming back because I love what I do. I think I was put here for a reason … and it’s going to be a difficult thing to let go of.”

She had to take a minute to compose herself and thank the students.

“You’re my last solo class, and I will carry you with me always,” she said.

Apprenticeship program

Six of the graduates will continue working as Nurse Aides with Virginia Health Services at Northampton, James River, The Newport and Coliseum convalescent and rehabilitation centers. They will be able to take advantage of the exam prep offered by VHS’ education team ahead of taking their certification exams.

Previous cohorts graduated in April, June and July.

There have been 40 enrollees in the apprenticeship program since its launch in March. The VHS earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program is part of the Healthcare Apprenticeship Extension Program, which is partially funded by a grant from the Department of Labor.

Learn more about the program here.

Applications to the program are accepted on a rolling basis. To apply, visit our job listing.

Virginia Health Services graduates third cohort of apprentices

Virginia Health Services recognized its third class of graduates from the Nurse Aide apprenticeship with a ceremony Wednesday at The Arbors at Port Warwick in Newport News.

VHS CEO and President Mark Klyczek delivered opening remarks, telling the graduates Virginia Health Services is “fortunate to grow our own CNAs. … You are at the end of your CNA training, but the beginning of your career. There are no limits” to where you can go next.

The 10 graduates were the largest class yet for the VHS program. The fourth cohort begins Aug. 3.

The earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program trains Care Assistants to become Nurse Aides during a five-week instruction period. The apprentices are paid during their training time, and the program covers the cost of the certification exam to become a CNA.

The graduates

Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center hosted Chad Hoffman for his apprenticeship.

Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center hosted graduate Chad Hoffman for his apprenticeship.

Instructor Ann Armstrong taught one student at Walter Reed, Chad Hoffman.

“He had all eyes on him,” she said to the gathered friends and family at Wednesday’s ceremony, “and he did very well.”

The Newport News-based class came together as a team over the course of the 25 days of class and clinical instruction.

“I am happy to share everyone received an A,” instructor Nora Gillespie said. She teaches at VHS’ Employment, Enrichment and Education center in Newport News. Nine of the 10 graduates were in her class.

Graduates were Jami Brinson, Jessica Campbell, Chad Hoffman, Christine Johnson, Quedarica Jones, Tawandra Rawl, Dana Turner, Jessica Williams, salutatorian Devyn Hotop and valedictorian Shirley Weigle.

They are placed at York, The Newport, Coliseum, Northampton and Walter Reed nursing and rehabilitation centers to continue careers with Virginia Health Services.

The camaraderie and affection for one another was apparent throughout the ceremony, with barely a dry eye in the house by the end.

Weigle, in her valedictorian remarks, said that there were times in the course of being a Care Assistant, she considered quitting. She has nursing experience from her time in the Philippines, but has to be recertified in the U.S.

Apprentice valedictorian Shirley Weigle delivers remarks.

Apprentice valedictorian Shirley Weigle delivers remarks.

“There were days I would sit in my car and cry and think, why am I doing this? Then I said, no, I have dreams and I have goals,” she said.

Then she excelled in Gillespie’s class, earning top honors on tests, clinical skills and perfect attendance.

“I said thank you to Nora, she did it. And she said, no, you did it – you made it yourself” Weigle shared.

“I think we all did it. For the past month, I was with these eight beautiful girls. They shared their goals. They shared their dreams. I share this recognition with all of you.”

Gillespie awarded her entire class a “Heart Award” for the collective heart and compassion the students had for the Residents they worked with, and each other.

Surprise for Gillespie

The students surprised Gillespie at the end of the ceremony, walking back in with T-shirts designed with some of her more frequent sayings.

“You know more than you think you know.”

“I took a risk!”

“That’s cooler than dog’s lips!”

Virginia Health Services apprentices surprise instructor Nora Gillespie with T-shirts

Virginia Health Services apprentices surprise instructor Nora Gillespie with T-shirts with her best sayings on them.

Gillespie, not one for being the center of attention, hugged the T-shirt they gave her, and shook her head.

She also was given a framed photo the students took with her before the ceremony.

As the students were putting the T-shirts on over their navy-blue scrubs, Director of Education Bryanna Rhodes shared a few words to recognize Gillespie, who always recognizes each student at the graduation ceremonies.

“She has been with VHS for 7 years, and I have had the privilege of working with her since December. When you look at the classes she’s taught, the hundreds of students she’s touched … It’s always amazing to me she can create a team out of a room full of strangers.”

“CNA bootcamp”

Virginia Health Services apprentices gave instructor Nora Gillespie a framed photo they signed as a graduation gift

Virginia Health Services apprentices gave instructor Nora Gillespie a framed photo they signed as a graduation gift.

Gillespie doesn’t shy away from telling the students – or their families and friends – that the class she teaches for five weeks is hard. She doesn’t shy away from telling them that working in long-term care is hard.

She lifts up their hard work and accomplishments and shares details about each student who survives “CNA bootcamp,” as she calls it.

When class began, she asked the students why they were there.

“You all said, ‘I want to take care of someone. … I enjoy being with the elderly.’ You don’t find that every day in a group,” Gillespie said.

“Every day after clinicals, you had a story to tell about something that made you smile. … You cared about your Residents.”

Virginia Health Services apprenticeship program

The VHS earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program is part of the Healthcare Apprenticeship Extension Program, which is partially funded by a grant from the Department of Labor.

Previous classes graduated in April and June. The program is unusual in that it pays participants for their training, and employs the students after graduation. Learn more about the program here.

Applications are accepted on a rolling basis. Apply here.