Six apprentices graduate to Nurse Aides in December 2023 cohort

Apprentice graduation group photo Dec. 8, 2023

Virginia Health Services celebrated its final apprentice class of 2023 during a graduation ceremony Friday, Dec. 8 at the Employment, Enrichment and Education (EEE) Center in Port Warwick.

The earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program graduates Care Assistants to Nurse Aides and covers the cost of the state certification exam to be a CNA. The program includes six weeks of class work and clinical skills labs, in addition to on-the-floor experience at VHS nursing and rehabilitation centers.

The graduates – Mahojahnae Cofield, Morgan Combs, Javonni James, Ebony Robertson, Alicia Smith and Sharen Van Boeckel – are now VHS team members. They will work at Northampton and York Nursing and Rehabilitation Centers.

Friends and family gathered to celebrate the apprentices’ accomplishments and enjoyed light refreshments following the ceremony.

The six graduates with their instructors at the EEE
The graduates with their instructors Princess, Nora and Tracy.

The ceremony

Instructor Nora Gillespie, RN, calls the class “CNA boot camp.” The students are presented 700 slides, take 14 tests and learn 22 skills. They also work on the floor at VHS nursing facilities in the evenings and on some weekends.

“They evolved through class,” she said. “Their personalities really came out.”

Director of Education Princess Henderson, RN, BSN, told the graduates “this is just the beginning. You guys are going to take it beyond your CNA licenses.”

This was a training class for training and education coordinator Tracy Williams, MSN, BSN, RN. She will teach classes at Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center beginning in January.

The graduates

The six graduates were complimented throughout the ceremony by Princess and Nora.

Mahojahnae “Mo” Cofield earned Princess’ Champion Award for being the most improved throughout the course of the class. “She wanted her patients to get great care,” Princess said.

Morgan Combs is the class valedictorian. She joined the class after spending time as a veterinarian tech, Princess said. “She decided she wanted to care for humans … There’s more of a connection when you provide care,” Princess said.

Morgan addressed her classmates in her valedictorian address, and thanked the instructor team.

“It’s been a complete whirlwind, but we made it to the other side. We have grown as humans and as nurse aides. We are a little more sure of ourselves, came out of our shells a bit, made friends with each other and had each other’s shoulders to lean on,” Morgan said. “… It has not been easy but we did it. I’m so proud to know each and every one of you … and so happy we took this journey together.”

Javonni James came into the class without previous healthcare experience. Tracy told Princess it looked like Javonni did it for years when watching her in the skills labs.

“She fell in love with her residents and will make an excellent nurse,” Princess said. Nora said Javonni excelled in the clinical environment.

Ebony Robertson had experience in healthcare and drove to class from Norfolk every day.

“Don’t stop here,” Princess told her. “You will be a great nurse.”

“She’s destined to do the right thing; she brings the best out of everyone else,” Nora added.

Princess referred to co-salutatorian Alicia Smith as “a little firecracker.” She exhibited professional growth in learning how to take care of residents.

“Alicia told me, ‘I will be great,’” Princess said.

Sharen Van Boeckel, co-salutatorian, worked in ICU care in Portland, Oregon, before moving to Virginia.

“She learned it’s different in nursing home and it’s different in Virginia,” Princess said. “She excelled in the classroom and on the floor.”

Nora added Sharen’s enrolled in a RN program that starts in January. “She’s a great leader and role model.”

VHS Vice President of Operations Don Lundin closed the ceremony saying, “Keep going. You’re on a journey. I’m excited to be part of your journey.”

The program

The next steps for the graduates include attending reviews at the EEE with Nora to prepare for the state board exams. “If you get through me, you’ll get through boards,” Nora said. “You will be a better nurse.”

The next apprenticeship class starts in January. Learn more about the program at


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