After 14 years working with the same retail company, Yvonne Bankston’s position was eliminated. Finding herself out of work, Yvonne was looking to take her career in a different direction, and she knew the first step was to earn her high school diploma. She started classes at SBLC in 2020, right as the COVID-19 pandemic began, and got her diploma the next year. Following graduation, she was among the first group of learners to complete the Career Skills Academy, a new SBLC program that equips adults with new skills and connections and strengthens existing skills as they switch career paths or enter the workforce for the first time.
As a participant in the Career Skills Academy, Yvonne became aware of opportunities at Northwest Hospital when a representative from LifeBridge Health came to speak to the class about their PATH (Pathways and Training in Healthcare) program. “It was something I was really interested in because I wanted to do something in administration,” she explains.
Through the PATH program, Yvonne began work at Northwest Hospital as a paid intern at the end of 2021. Before long, she was offered and accepted a full-time position with the hospital in their Patient Assets division. “They liked my work, they liked my personality, they liked my customer service skills,” she says. “My favorite part of working at Northwest Hospital is working with the people there. They’re very friendly, everybody is so nice—and I really like working with the patients…. I like people, period.”
Coming from a background in customer service retail, Yvonne already possessed many valuable and transferable skills, but getting accustomed to the hospital system presented a challenge—one she was ready to meet. “I’m a fast learner and I learn hands-on,” she says. “When I first started, I was a little nervous, but the more I did the work, the more comfortable I became.” She approached this initial challenge the same way she faced difficulties with math while preparing for her GED test at SBLC: “When there’s something that’s challenging to me, I don’t allow it to overcome me—I challenge it. I embrace the challenge.”
Among the other challenges she faced, Yvonne also underwent major surgery during the time she was attending GED preparation classes at SBLC, but she only missed one day of class. As someone who has completed both academic and career readiness programs at SBLC, Yvonne offers these words of advice for others considering enrolling: “Do it and stick with it. No matter how challenging it might seem or become, overcome those obstacles. Nothing is ever easy in transitioning and moving in life, and there are going to be some obstacles in the way. The thing is to rise above them and keep pressing forward.”
Nathaniel Westbrooks, 20, graduated from Carver Vocational-Technical High School in 2019. While still in high school, where he was on the Construction Design and Management track, he was hired for a paid internship with BGE, a position he still holds today. To advance in his career, he knew his next step would be passing the Construction and Skilled Trades Selection System (CAST) Test, known to be very difficult. After taking the test twice, but not passing, he came to SBLC for our CAST Test Prep class, a program supported by BGE/Exelon.
As the saying goes, the third time was a charm! After completing the class here, Nathaniel took the CAST test and passed. “Passing the test felt like winning a championship!” he says. In addition to the material presented in the class, he credits the test preparation techniques—including breathing exercises—he learned and the support of the instructors for helping him reach his goal of passing the test. “I was treated like family as soon as I came to SBLC, since the first day of class,” Nathaniel shares. “Everyone learns differently, and they understood that and helped each and every one of us.”
Congratulations to Nathaniel!
Alejandra Canales is SBLC’s first learner to belong to two different graduation classes. Alejandra earned her high school diploma in 2013, but was diagnosed with cancer and could not make it to her ceremony. However, when she recovered in 2015, SBLC staff reached out to her and invited her to participate in that year’s graduation ceremony. “I was really touched by that act of kindness,” she shares.
When Alejandra was young, her family fled from violence in Nicaragua and immigrated to the U.S. to find better jobs, eventually gaining her U.S. citizenship in 1982. She originally enrolled in classes at SBLC in 2005, but had to take a break to take care of her sick mother.
Alejandra returned to SBLC in 2011 with renewed determination. While at SBLC she had an instructor encourage learners to “find their passion.” She says he helped her discover that she really likes math. “You learn things about yourself,” she shares. “It makes you feel stronger and more successful.”
Alejandra works in the housekeeping department at St. Agnes Hospital. Now that she is healthy again, she plans on enrolling at Community College of Baltimore County. She wants to improve her English and take computer science classes to follow her passion for math and gain better employment.
“I just got comfortable with the fact I did not finish school,” Pamela Robinson shared with the Class of 2016 during her graduation speech. “Over the years I went from job to job until I found a job I liked, settled in, and said I would do this until I retired.”
But she could not settle for long. After years of working as a laundry attendant, Pamela, 62, could no longer keep up with the physical demands of her job and it was costing her health-wise. She knew that in order for her to get another job, she needed to get her high school diploma.
Growing up, Pamela would often miss school and fall behind in her classes. “When you fall behind in things, it’s hard to catch up,” she explained during her speech. After years of feeling discouraged in school, in addition to the added responsibilities of having a child at a young age, Pamela decided to drop out and get a job when she was in the 10th grade.
Pamela tried to go back to school many times over the years. However, whenever she would start, she would soon get discouraged or some difficulty would arise and she would quit. When she decided to get her high diploma at SBLC after being unable to keep up with her job, she came with a renewed perseverance. Originally starting in GED™ classes, she came in on Saturdays and worked with her tutors to bring her math scores up, eventually retesting and qualifying for the National External Diploma Program. “I fought my fear of failing and being discouraged, I fought the fear of being the oldest student in the class,” she reflected.
Now that she has her high school diploma, Pamela is currently enrolled in the Baltimore School of the Bible and is working towards becoming ordained minister.
Read more about Pamela in The Baltimore Sun or watch this video featuring her graduation address.