The mother of four children ages 16, 13, six and two, and working a full-time job, Jermia Kelley admitted she did not think she would be able to add school to her already busy schedule. But staff at the Caroline Center convinced her she had what it took to juggle a busy schedule and complete her studies. Kelley decided to enroll. She successfully completed her studies, and is among the 41 women who participated in a special graduation held May 21, 2020.
The curbside graduation took place in front of the Caroline Center, which is located at 900 Somerset Street in Baltimore.
“My goal is to earn a doctorate in pharmacy,” said Kelley who also holds an A.A. degree. “Caroline Center made us believe in ourselves. They successfully helped me, and the other students change our views in how we saw certain things, and completing tasks. They kept our energy level up and our hearts in it.”
She added, “Everyone we came in contact with at the school was so dedicated to our cause. They gave us everything we needed to be successful.”
Celebratory signs and balloons lined the sidewalk in front of the center where the graduates drove down in their cars to receive their certificates, and a pin.
“I didn’t know what to expect at the graduation,” said Kelly who is 35-years-old. “I had never participated in a curbside graduation prior to our ceremony. I was super excited. Everyone was standing outside with their masks on, and holding signs and balloons. It wasn’t the standard graduation, but the Caroline School celebrated our milestone while being safe. It was different, but a great experience. Kudos and applause to everyone.”
The graduation was initially to have taken place a week prior at Notre Dame of Maryland University. However, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the location and date change.
“Attending the Caroline Center has been a life-changing experience,” said Kelley of the 15-week program. “For graduation, they also gave us a flower, balloon, and put our certificates in an Ivy League folder with gold trim. We also wore our scrubs. It was the details of the graduation that really impressed me. It was well-thought out and planned. I am so happy to have the experience of attending Caroline Center.”
Caroline Center is an 503(c) nonprofit organization sponsored by School Sisters of Notre Dame. The program provides a holistic approach to education and individualized instruction in a supportive community, where women can prepare for careers as a certified nursing assistant or pharmacy technician.
The center was founded in 1996 on the vision of Mother Caroline Friess, (1824-1892), the woman who established the School Sisters of Notre Dame in North America. Caroline Center’s mission is to empower each woman to reach the fullness of her potential so that she can create a future of hope for herself and her family.
“The amount of opportunity I now have because of Caroline Center is wonderful,” said Kelley who is now interning at Johns Hopkins Hospital. “I will start Pharmacy school in the fall, and now have a career path. The Caroline Center motivated me to further my education. I want people to know that a girl from Baltimore who grew up on the rough side of town and has four kids was able to make it. I want to inspire others and to keep carrying the flame.”
Caroline Center, which will celebrate 25 years of commitment to women and commitment to work in 2021, is accredited by the Maryland Higher Education Commission, the Maryland Board of Nursing, and the Maryland Board of Pharmacy.
“We realized it was important to celebrate the women,” said Jessika Robey, Academic and Career Advancement Specialist for Caroline Center. “We decided to have a curbside graduation. The atmosphere was wonderful, and the weather was beautiful. The graduation really made a huge impact. The graduates got to see each other and celebrate together. With everything going on in the world, it was pure happiness.”
According to Robey, Caroline Center consistently scores well above the national benchmarks for successful workforce development organizations, making it one of the most effective career skills training programs in the country. Robey said that while the center teaches, so do the students who come through its doors.
“For me, one of the things that stands out is what I learn from the women,” she said. “I teach them, but they teach me. I wake up every day happy to go to work.”
For more information about Caroline Center, visit https://caroline-center.org/