Students shine at United Way Suncoast CNA ceremony

Ashley Heard, one of the latest graduates of United Way Suncoast's CNA program, poses with Weaver Jones, Supervisor for Talent Acquisition Nursing at Moffitt Cancer Center.

Through every second of a recent United Way Suncoast Certified Nursing Assistance (CNA) ceremony, Ashley Heard’s smile never, ever, left her. 

“I’m so happy I can barely explain it,” said Heard, after being honored with seven others for completing the organization’s CNA program.

She even smiled when she rehashed her life’s work history, which involved some jobs, “that were often frustrating,” including working for a mail service, a retail store, a convenience store and for the past several years as a “care giver” at an assisted living facility.

“It was tough at the assisted living facility because I didn’t feel appreciated by the employers but I did love helping people so much,” Heard said. “One man told me that if he had more people like me working there he would pay more to stay there. So, I liked helping the people living there. But I was also frustrated. I felt like I was not going to grow and improve myself there. I felt like I was in a rut.”

Then Heard, with an even bigger smile, held up her United Way Suncoast Certified Nursing Assistant program certificate and said, “But now my life has changed.”

Headed for Moffitt

After completing an eight-week training course — fully funded and implemented in partnership between UWS and the Hillsborough Community College’s Allied Health Institute for Corporate and Continuing Education — Heard passed her state-board test last week for nursing assistant certification.

A few days later, Heard, 35, learned she had landed a job as a certified nursing assistant at Moffitt Cancer Center.

“All of this almost feels too good to be true,” said Heard, an Armwood High alumni. “Before, when I was working so hard, I felt like I was killing myself for nothing. Now that I have (the CNA) I can work toward taking the next steps (toward becoming a registered nurse). Now I have so much hope for so many things in life.”

Heard’s kids — Leighann, 14, and Lena, 12 — hugged their mom after the ceremony and took photos with other CNA graduates.

CNA Program Continues To Thrive
Taneisha Dewdney

The latest group represents the ninth cohort in three years for UWS’ financial stability efforts. The results reflect the success: 82 students have entered the program with 79 completing the training. Despite a state backlog on testing, many have earned their CNA licenses.

One of the program’s recent graduates, Taneisha Dewdney (2022), came to offer more words of encouragement to Friday’s ceremony. She spoke about her journey from working in insurance to enrolling in the United Way Suncoast CNA program.

“I was burned out on insurance and I saw an ad on Facebook for this CNA program,” Dewdney told the crowd at the North Tampa Community Center. “I thought maybe this is a scam, but if it isn’t then that would be pretty cool. … I ended up graduating from the class and getting a job at Moffitt and I’ve been there ever since.”

Keeping It In The Family

Dewdney’s ultimate goal is to become a nurse practitioner. It’s a goal for which she is currently studying, a plan paid in full by Moffitt.

“My advice is that if you have any type of want in you at all, then go for it,” Dewdney said. “You can tell the people who really love their jobs and those who really don’t. I love, love, love my job and believe me, there is nothing better than loving your job.”

Kimberly Miller, the United Way Suncoast senior manager for financial stability (and workforce development), oversees the CNA program. Miller emphasized that the organization and the multiple partners who help the program thrive care deeply about each of the graduates.

“We want everybody who goes on from here to fully succeed,” Miller said. “We are there for our graduates long after they finish our program.

“We are committed to shaping the future of our students,  community and the overall economic well-being of our region. We want to impact more than just the individual student and their family, but also address the gap facing employers, who are in desperate need of compassionate caregivers.”

Ashley Heard, Natasha Price, My’Kayla Evans-Ford, Vanjie Powell celebrate after earning certificates from the United Way Suncoast Certified Nursing Assistants program. Not pictured: Mariyah Daway, Pricilla Lazio, Jasha Henderson, Samara Causey.


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