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Client Story

Elizabeth’s journey to CNA


A Woman’s Determination to Support Her Family and Give Back as a CNA

Elizabeth arrived from Nigeria to help take care of her ill father-in-law, bringing two school-aged sons with her. 

After he died, she felt adrift, with no job and no resources. Thanks to the recommendation of a church friend who was also an immigrant and a local hospital nurse, Elizabeth’s life dramatically changed.

Two women holding supplies for a nursing assistant class “She told me I had potential,” Elizabeth said. Then, the woman told her to call the International Institute of Minnesota to inquire about Nursing Assistant Training

Elizabeth almost didn’t call.

She didn’t have money to pay for what she assumed the job training would cost. When she learned the training would be free — thanks to contributions from donors — she could hardly believe it.

“The people who donate to this cause, they have millions of things out there they can donate to. But they chose the Institute,” Elizabeth said. “They might not know the impact they are having. Not just on me, but on my kids, on my mom, on my family.”

She continued, explaining how the Institute and becoming a certified nursing assistant (CNA) transformed her life.

“The training helped me to get a good job. I get paid. I’m able to take care of myself. I’m able to take care of my family. Simply because some people decided to donate,” Elizabeth said.

In 2023, she also became part of an Institute milestone when we reached 3,000 CNAs trained by the Institute. Elizabeth now works the night shift at Children’s Hospital in St. Paul — a job she adores. She’s thankful to Institute teachers for preparing her for success as a CNA.

“The training is really, really good. Really intense, really hands-on,” Elizabeth said. She passed her certification exam on her first try — a feat for anyone testing in their non-native language. An Institute employment navigator helped polish her resume and prepare for her interview at Children’s.

“Coming to the States, you have to unlearn so many things. The environment is different. The culture is different. For instance, I learned how to maintain eye contact at the Institute. Because where I come from, we don’t. It’s rude.”

Soon after beginning her new job, Elizabeth also started the Institute’s College Readiness Academy with the goal of continuing her nursing education.

Reflecting on her semester in College Readiness, she named all the ways it helped prepare her for the demands of college-level work to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN).

In addition to feeling ready academically, Elizabeth learned healthy study habits and time management — essential skills for a single mother who also works a full-time job and serves as the secretary to her sons’ school parent teacher association.

Someday I hope my family will be known at the Institute as a family that volunteers. I hope it’s something that goes into generations

One would never guess what challenges Elizabeth faces, given her infectious smile and positive attitude.

“I would have been so depressed if I had not discovered the Institute. My life was so bleak. I didn’t have anyone to point me in the right direction. I didn’t know what to do,” Elizabeth said. “Everything I’ve done is through the Institute. They always point me in the right direction.”

One step at a time, she plans to become a nurse practitioner and specialize in the mental health field. Meanwhile, she continues focusing on school, work and mothering her two teenage boys. 

She has high hopes not only for herself, but for her children, too. 

“Someday I hope my family will be known at the Institute as a family that volunteers. I hope it’s something that goes into generations — that someday one of them will say, ‘Oh my great-grandmother, when she came, she went to the Institute!’ That’s the way I picture it,” Elizabeth said.

As she shares about her dreams for the future and reflects on her accomplishments since starting at the Institute just 10 short months ago, her entire body radiates an animated, infectious energy. 

“Let me make the people at the Institute proud. In the future, I want them, to look at me and say, ‘yes.’” 

Then she leans forward, smiles and whispers with a look of determination: “I’m just getting started.” 

Reported and written by Alisa Blackwood, Communications Manager at the International Institute of Minnesota. Alisa’s work at the Institute comes after years of writing for publications and organizations such as The Associated Press, O, The Oprah Magazine, TravelandLeisure.com, Health and more. She hopes her writing about Institute clients, students and staff bring to life the stories behind the news headlines.

More Annual Report Stories

Elizabeth’s story was originally featured in the Institute’s 2023 Annual Report. Read the report and more featured stories.

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Your generous support helps refugees and immigrants find safety and fulfillment in their new lives. Donations in any amount fund our essential programs that allow New Americans to receive expert services, learn English, train for meaningful careers and so much more. Please consider making a gift today.

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