Published: Mar 16, 2013 07:00 PM
Modified: Mar 16, 2013 03:39 PM
HILLSBOROUGH - Six years ago, Natasha Evans was a single mother with no job, no home of her own and few options.
A friend said get food stamps, but Evans was embarrassed and afraid. She had been a foster child, and it took a while to overcome the fear that her son Zymier might be taken away, she said.
Today, Evans is one of two former Department of Social Services clients certified as basic Emergency Medical Technicians in their second full year with Orange County’s Emergency Services Department.
A pilot partnership between DSS’s Work First program and Emergency Services has given Evans and other clients access to education, job skills and mentoring. The partnership was recognized in February with a Best Practice Award from the N.C. Association of County Directors of Social Services.
Although the pilot has ended, EMS Assistant. Chief and Operations Manager Kim Woodward said they have hired a third participant and are seeking grants to continue the program. Orange County has a shortage of good paramedics, and the program gives local residents access to that career path, she said.
Evans, 26, started with Work First on her 21st birthday. She’s thankful that program manager Robert Gilmore, Woodward and others gave her a chance, she said.
“I’m blessed to be able to have this opportunity and people in my life to do this,” she said.
About 80 people start Work First classes each year, spending roughly 35 hours a week for three months learning job and life skills, getting an education and finding work with county departments and local businesses. About half of the clients graduate from the program; others get a job and leave.
Woodward first got involved when Gilmore told her about Evans, who was working then at Carolina Assisted Living. She met Shunte Bryant while talking about EMS careers with a Work First class at Durham Technical Community College’s local campus.
Bryant, 27, had graduated from Durham’s Hillside High School, spent four years in the U.S. Navy and worked as preschool teacher in Virginia before returning to Orange County in 2010 with her son Nicholas. Her teaching credentials didn’t transfer, and her grandmother suggested going to DSS to get back on her feet.
Bryant said she, too, had doubts about seeking help.
“My impression of welfare was people that abuse the system, and I didn’t want to be part of that,” she said.
The Work First class gave her a new perspective and a foundation in basic medical skills.
While EMT apprentices typically spend about 12 hours on ride-alongs, practicing their skills with EMS crews, Bryant and Evans charted about 100 hours, Woodward said. Both women were motivated and ready to work hard, she said. Evans “brings a fierce passion for patients” and makes them feel at ease, while Shunte is “incredibly confident and has a strong work ethic,” she said.
“I think they would both make brilliant paramedics,” she said.
The women also worked in the Emergency Services warehouse, stocking trucks, organizing supplies and becoming familiar with equipment names and locations.
Evans is studying now for her intermediate EMT certification and hopes to be a paramedic by next year. Bryant, who will give birth to a second child this spring and get married this summer, also wants to advance in the field.
The toughest calls are those with familiar addresses or that involve a child, they said, but their maternal instincts and community ties help them build relationships with patients and families in an emergency.
“At the end of the day, it’s always nice to be able to make somebody smile, to be a listening ear or a friend,” Evans said. “My mom says I get to be my community’s angel.”