Eight apprentices graduate to VHS Nurse Aides

Apprentice graduation group photo 4.11.24

Eight apprentices graduated from Care Assistant to Nurse Aide during a ceremony Thursday, April 11, 2024, at the Employment, Education and Enrichment (EEE) Center. The earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program also covers the cost of the state certification exam to be a CNA. This cohort featured four graduates with military ties, recruited in partnership with Hamilton-Ryker.

The six-week course includes classwork with 14 tests, learning 22 skills, and on-the-floor experience with patients at James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. Instructor Nora Gillespie, RN, refers to the class as “boot camp,” which was even more fitting given the students’ military connections.

Valedictorian Marie Ann Thomas is a member of the Air Force and took the class as part of the Department of Defense’s SkillBridge program, which helps military members transition to civilian life. A former dental technician, Marie “fell into taking care of people,” said Director of Education Princess Henderson, RN, BSN.

Two graduates, Jazmin Brown and Mitsy-Ann Green-Dawkins, are spouses of service members. Mitsy-Ann’s husband returned from a six-month deployment with the Air Force days earlier and attended the graduation ceremony.

Aldeen Stupart was referred to as the “class mom,” but also is the mother of service members.

The class

The new Nurse Aides will continue employment with VHS and work at The Newport, Northampton and Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Centers.

Nora said they “successfully conquered the class – together. This group of ladies helped each other get across the finish line.”

Jazmin came to class with a background in healthcare working at an assisted living. She soon learned, Princess said, long-term care can be a different experience. Jazmin relearned techniques based on Virginia requirements, with a smile, Nora said, and has eyes on nursing school.

Salutatorian Deniece Corbin “excelled in the class and on the floor,” Princess said. Deniece also was taking classes at night in nursing school. “This class will make you a better nurse,” Nora told her.

Aida Davila started with VHS as assistant activity director at Coliseum, where she worked with former apprentice student and All-Star Shawn Hill. She sought out Princess to enroll in the class.

“Shawn prepared you. You stepped in with a positive attitude and maturity,” Nora said. Princess also praised Aida’s time management with residents, excelling in the clinical setting.

Jacqueline Eadie is also a student at Hampton University and will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in bio science in May. “You stepped up to the plate and this class supported you. You found comfort in them,” Nora said.

Mitsy-Ann was managing her family in addition to the class. Both instructors called her humble and said she looked out for her peers. “She returned to CNA classes for a reason – she really makes an impact on residents,” Princess said, adding one resident made sure even the James River administrator knew what a wonderful caretaker Mitsy is.

Princia Hounounou moved to Virginia recently and had a “smooth, gentle presence on the floor,” Princess said.

“Young, but mature, poised and determined,” Nora said. Princia earned Princess’s Champion Award for showing the most growth and improvement throughout the course of the class.

Aldeen “likes to keep her hands busy,” Princess said. She brought past healthcare experience to the table and gained confidence in her return to learning.

Marie is organized, Nora said, and carried that through in everything she did. “You have the heart and compassion, plus the skills to go with it,” Nora said.

“The residents wanted you there,” Nora told the class. “Lead with your heart and follow with your skill. We are very proud.”

Valedictorian speech

Marie delivered remarks to her classmates and instructors. She also presented yellow friendship roses to her fellow graduates.

“Most of you were also working other jobs, or going to school, or doing both – I was so impressed. I’m proud, and I hope you all are too,” Marie said.

Marie Ann Thomas shares valedictorian remarks with the class.

“Thanks to the instructors,” she said turning to Nora and Princess. “You can tell how much heart they both have and it really makes this class. You come here and feel they love what they do.”

She said she and her classmates would come off a shift on the floor and talk about what they could do better – to be better – to bring joy and make peoples’ lives better. She added she was amazed by the age differences among the class.

“We really did come together … I was blown away by all of you,” Marie said.

Valedictorian Marie Ann Thomas passes out yellow friendship roses to her classmates.

Instructor gifts

The students turned the tables on the instructors at the end of the ceremony, presenting Nora and Princess with glass “best teacher” awards.

Deniece presented Nora’s gift, saying, “We love you. … I really will carry what you taught us for the rest of my life.”

Following a group hug, there were more tears as Aldeen presented Princess with her glass award.

“We want to express how much we appreciate you. You made us realize that we have the courage and confidence to pursue our dreams. … You have prepared us for the world. … There is a saying, ‘a good teacher can awaken joy in their students and make a positive impression that can last a lifetime.’”

Next up

In addition to working with VHS, the graduates will participate in review sessions and schedule their certification exams with the state board.

“This was an exceptional class,” Princess said. “Use this as a stepping stone. I hope I can inspire you to go as far as you want in nursing. The sky is the limit.”

Join the team

The apprenticeship program classes on the Peninsula and Gloucester begin at the end of April. Applications will open for the Peninsula June 24-August 1 class in late May and the Gloucester July 22-August 29 class in June. Visit to learn more and apply.


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