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SHERELL GINN, a Certified Nursing Assistant employed by Pittsburgh Mercy in one of its residential programs for adults with intellectual disabilities. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

People who want to get off government assistance often find the deck stacked against them because they don’t have the training to get a job that pays enough to make up for the ancillary benefits—subsidized rent, insurance—that come with being on the government dole.

Still others who get into college or training programs can be one automotive repair or child’s health issue away from dropping out. But now, thanks to a $13 million grant, the Community College of Allegheny County is working to change that dynamic for 1,860 low-income and assistance-receiving individuals with its free Health Professional Opportunity Grant program.

The program is designed to help these individuals get the training to secure jobs that lead to self-sufficiency, but the key, said program director Michelle Tedder, is its case management services.

“This is a high-risk group with a lot of barriers. So, if you don’t have daycare, we can support that. If you need transportation, we can support that. What do you need to stay in school,” she said. “It can really people’s lives around.”

For Sherell Ginn, a 47-year-old single mother and grandmother, it has done just that. A year ago, she was making barely more than minimum wage driving a van for disabled children. Now she is a certified nursing assistant employed by Pittsburgh Mercy in one of its residential programs for adults with intellectual disabilities.

“I was looking to better myself, and the nursing advisor at CCAC, Sam Brown, told me about this program, and it’s been a Godsend, tenfold,” she said. “I was taking home less than $400 every two weeks, that’s less than at GetGo. So, to go from that to starting at more than $9 an hour, it’s a blessing.”

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