Jennifer's inspiring journey from homelessness to honors as she navigated her Medical Assistant training at UEI College in Stockton

Medical Assistant Student Perseveres Through Graduation

Jennifer Groomes was just a few months into her Medical Assistant training program at UEI College in Stockton when she and her family lost their home, but with encouragement from staff, her instructor and a new lifelong friend, she was able to find the strength to not only persevere, but also graduate with honors, all while living in her car.

“It was very scary not knowing what would happen day to day,” Jennifer said. “Living in your car is not good. It was very overwhelming. What kept me going was looking at my son’s face and him seeing me do well in school. I knew I had to finish to show him it doesn’t matter how old you are. When you start something, finish it. You can do anything you put your mind to.”

Jennifer’s intentions of becoming a medical assistant were pure from the start. She was inspired to enter the field while working as a housekeeper for an assisted living facility.

“I didn’t like seeing the way the elderly were being treated,” she said. “I decided to go into the medical field. That way maybe I could make one person smile or make a difference or a change for even one person.”

“I remember her taking her tour here,” said Jessica Yeley, Jennifer’s instructor. “She came in my class and looked around the lab and I knew from that point on that this would be something she would take advantage of. Then I saw her in my class. From that moment on, she just took the program for what it was. She was a mentor, she was a class leader, she knew her skills, she made sure she was here every single lab day.”

“It was interesting,” Jennifer said. “My first class was a hands-on class. We learned injections right away. That pushed me even more to keep doing it. My first day I got to do injections and I was excited.”

Jennifer connected not only with the curriculum but with her classmates as well.

“We connected during the first week of school,” said Jescina Mani, Jennifer’s classmate. “We had to pick a partner. Me and her looked up, we looked at each other and pointed and it was like, ‘Yes.’ We were going to be partners. When we went into labs that day, we became very close and bonded. I always had her back; she had mine. We promised each other we would push each other through the whole program.”

That promise became essential three months later when Jennifer and her family became homeless and started living in their car.

“The struggle of living in our car and getting to school was so overwhelming, and I got to the point where I thought I can’t do this anymore,” Jennifer said. “Jescina was like, ‘You’ve got this.’ My instructor Ms. Jess told me, ‘You’ve got this. Don’t worry, you can do it.’ I just kept keeping on and pushing through. I just kept going.”

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Despite her struggles in her personal life, most of Jennifer’s classmates had no idea she was experiencing homelessness. She still showed up to class when she needed to, volunteered as a mentor to other students and stayed active at school.

“You would never have known unless she told you,” said Kathy Escebedo, associate director of education at the Stockton campus. “I was intrigued by her strong personality and how she didn’t allow this to affect her charisma. She was always so positive and cheerful. She was a great team player within her program.”

“Nobody knew she was homeless throughout the program,” Ms. Yeley said. “That says a lot about her. Anyone who can struggle in silence and still come out on top is someone who is very, very strong.”

For Jennifer, it all goes back to helping people.

“My instructor referred me to be an ambassador and it felt really good to feel that someone is actually noticing you and what you are putting out into the class,” she said. “I enjoyed it. Every event I would go to, every college prep day, I would be there. Anything they had, I would show up and be there. It was just to help people. Helping them made me feel good. It put a smile on my face seeing someone else smile, knowing they had someone there to help.”

At the end of her program, Jennifer had an almost perfect GPA

“It’s amazing,” Jennifer said. “I feel like I’ve accomplished something. I have six kids, and with having six kids, I was always a mom. Now that they are older, I finally feel like I achieved and did something for myself.”

Jennifer also walked away with a friendship that will last a lifetime.

“She is a great, wonderful person,” Jescina said. “She would give her shirt off her back. It was great to have that type of support, and it is rare to have it. It’s a wonderful thing to have, to show each other love and that type of friendship. In our class, we did that. We were like a family and I’m so grateful.”

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