The UofL Trager Institute recently celebrated the graduation of the inaugural cohort of apprentices from the Trauma-Informed FlourishCare™ Paraprofessional Program, an innovative 18-month program designed to equip participants for careers in behavioral health. It places a special emphasis on fostering recovery for individuals with substance use and various mental health needs across Kentucky. Seven graduates received certifications as community health workers and community support specialists, as well as certification as peer support specialists during their six-month pre-apprenticeship. This graduation marks a milestone in the institute’s commitment to cultivating a workforce dedicated to addressing behavioral health challenges faced by communities in Kentucky.
Kendrea Young, one of the graduates, shared her experience in the program with UofL News.
UofL News: Tell me about your background and what brought you to the UofL Trager Institute’s Trauma-Informed FlourishCare™ Paraprofessional Program.
Kendrea Young: I’ve always wanted to do things for my community, but I never knew what I wanted to do, whether it was mental health, physical health, anything like that. I just knew I wanted it to be community-based because I’ve always been about the community. When it comes to my background, growing up – and I’d say I’m still growing – I had some trials and errors. I had things going on with substance abuse and depression. All that stemmed from a lot of trauma.
That’s how it started with the peer support specialist training because that’s how you’ve got to start off. You have to have some sort of experience with substance abuse to get into the program. So, learning all these different things and meeting new people sparked my mind. It shows me that, yes, you could have your bachelor’s or master’s, but being able to earn your certification, like the one I received, can still lead to a career. It lets me know that you don’t have to put yourself in debt to still do the things you want to do, whether that’s doing case management, social work or working in the community in some way. Whether it’s as a paraprofessional or a community health worker (CHW), it all works together. It does get your foot in the door, letting you know that this is something you really want to do.
UofL News: In what ways do you believe this training has contributed to your personal and professional growth?
Young: The incredible support from people I had never even met before has meant a lot for my personal growth. They’ve been so supportive, especially when it comes to continuing with this program and thinking about my future plans. The support, love and information they’ve shown give me hope for pursuing maybe a bachelor’s, maybe a master’s degree. I’m not really sure where I want to go yet, but I know it’s something big.
They’ve also really helped me learn about communicating, understanding what communication looks like, what professionalism looks like and how to present myself in certain environments. We’re advocates for the people we watch over, whether it’s kids, adults or older adults. We advocate for them and make sure we know the tools and can provide the best quality care for our patients. So, in that way, they’ve helped me a lot. I’m never not learning anything when I’m with the group.
UofL News: How would you describe your experience with the program?
Young: I worked with two sites. I started with VOA [Volunteers of America: Determined Health], but I had to stop to finish my dental certification. Trager was nice enough to let me finish and come back, and that’s how I got with Smoketown [Family Wellness Center]. They’re very supportive of my dreams and goals.
First, I started working with health equity with Humana and VOA. Now, with Smoketown, I work with parents and their kids. I always say a healthy child needs a healthy parent, just embedding that in people’s heads. They know that we have a care team, including myself and my other team members, and the doctors – we’re there to help them. When I look back from where I work now and where I used to work, it all starts out in childhood. It begins when they are a kid, and then growing up, knowing that trauma can lead to chronic illnesses. I like that we’re working to stop that, preventing the potential challenges when they’re 30 years old and beyond. So, that’s what I do now.
UofL News: Why do you think community health workers are important?
Young: I’d say that Community Health Workers (CHWs) are so important because we’re real. We’re either in the same boat as the people we’re taking care of or we were in the same boat. So, with this job, you have to have experience of this sort. Everybody’s story is different and everybody’s trauma is different as well. But having someone as a CHW or as a peer support specialist, you know right off the bat that they have been through some things. That’s why the patients we work with are able to open up more.
When they have someone on the team like a CHW, it’s easier for them to share important information with the social worker, therapist and doctors so we can all come together and make a great care plan for this individual to move ahead in life. That’s why the CHW role is so important. It’s because it’s real. We’re meeting people where they are.
UofL News: What unique qualities or advantages of the Trager Institute program do you appreciate?
Young: This is my first time being in something like this, and it’s a real career. I’m not sure about any other programs, but I would say what’s special is that they will go to war with you. Whether that’s finding you a placement and a job, whether that’s making sure you’re successful in the training or making sure you understand what you’re doing and what is being taught. Because when you go out there in the world and you’re trying to do these services and you don’t understand, then there is no point.
So just being on us and holding us accountable and being a great team, I feel like that’s the difference. And they teach us how to be team leaders because, with this job, you have to be an advocate and have to be a leader for the person that you’re working with. Seeing other leaders and other women and other men, it gives you motivation. Whether you want to further your next step in social work or therapy or anything like that, I would most definitely recommend this program. I recommend it to a lot of people all the time. I recommend this to a lot of the parents that I work with because they’re going through so much, and I let them know that the stuff they’re doing doesn’t define them. I’m 22, and I’m young, working with all these different parents, and they’re like, ‘Kendrea, this is great. This is great information. Thank you for everything that you do.’ And I wouldn’t be able to be a good help if it wasn’t for the Trager Institute.
Q&A by Samantha Adams