“My sister and I came to Omaha in August 2022,” she reflects on a whirlwind two years. After the worsening unrest of the Taliban in her native Afghanistan, Fatimeh Hassan Pour and her sister arrived in the US as refugees. Her brother, who was already established stateside, reached out to former Vice President of Human Resources Alicia Elson to inquire about job openings and opportunities at QLI. Given Fatimeh’s interest in a career in nursing, it seemed a smart step—getting his sister on a successful track in the healthcare field. There would be hills to climb—a new language, a new culture. This place, QLI, set at the bottom of a large hill, seemed symbolic of the climb Fatimeh needed to take.

Fatimeh’s potential was clear to Alicia and the other QLI team members, which would be amplified through QLI’s IMPACT [Integrative Mentoring, Positive and Collaborative Training] program. IMPACT, created in 2019 through a partnership with Avenue Scholars, provides specialized nursing assistant training and certification with individualized hands-on training and an added level of mentoring, building and bolstering the Omaha healthcare workforce. Expanding to work with other community partners, IMPACT also offers additional support and education for individuals for whom English is their second language.

Coordinator of IMPACT Melissa Elvig and IMPACT Program Specialist Yuri Carrazco-Cortez prepared a place for her in the upcoming class to begin in the fall of 2022. In the meantime, “there was an opening on the East Campus kitchen team,” says Yuri, “providing Fatimeh with a stable source of income and offering a natural environment to work on the English language and socialization.” From the start, Fatimeh began her education with full and enthusiastic support, not just from QLI team members, but from her classmates.

In September 2022, the class began with Fatimeh and a handful of others. “By having this middle range of support and attention,” says Melissa, “we were able to bring engagement for Fatimeh to the front. Being in a class by yourself has the potential to grow very tiresome and boring, while a class with over a dozen individuals may bring out more shy tendencies—it’s easier to grow more reserved.” Thus, there would be every opportunity to remain engaged, something crucial to both understanding the subject material and learning the English language at the same time, as the ability to obtain the CNA certification requires a solid grasp of the language and comprehension.

Her desire to never stop improving is the core of Fatimeh’s identity. No doubt the circumstances of what she went through, and the difficult road ahead towards pursuing her certification may have dissuaded others. Not Fatimeh. “My English was not very good when I started here,” Fatimeh remembers, “and the first month or two was quite difficult.” But as time passed in the program, she blossomed, actively seeking out English classes through Metropolitan Community College and socializing with her classmates in settings beyond the classroom. This practice allowed her to further her growth and comfortability in English but also forge solid relationships with future and current team members.

Important to her development was the inherent structure of the IMPACT program. When studying material for the CNA exams, it isn’t a “one-and-done,” merely studying for an exam with just one chance to pass it. At the heart of IMPACT is engendering success no matter the time and effort it takes to get it. Every student has the support behind them to assess the difficulties, review the mistakes, and try again. In the spring of 2023, Fatimeh passed, ready to begin fully her work as a CNA.

“For the year prior we had the chance to get to know her,” recalls Coordinator of the Summit Johnetta Nelson. “All supports were in place and we knew that the Summit would be a great opportunity for Fatimeh to get the routines down, and become familiar with our residents and team members.”

Support began by focusing on a couple of residents at a time, being able to know their programs inside and out, and gaining both confidence and expertise, before expanding to care with other residents. “As that confidence grew, she began to initiate with other residents’ programs,” says Johnetta.

“QLI is nearly like a family to me,” Fatimeh reflects, “it’s been total support from the start.” For the team, the story of Fatimeh, while being equal measures of inspiration and hard work, is far from over. It’s in the little things, how she has connected with residents, a mutual relationship as they have begun to bond with her, asking about her travels and getting to know her a little more.

For Olga Affanou, an East Campus Leader, the day is coming, almost inevitable when Fatimeh will train new team members and be the support for them as others were for her. The wide breadth of knowledge she has gained and the eagerness with which to learn has already started to come back around again. “She said she’s ready,” says Olga.

The present for Fatimeh isn’t enough, and why should it be? With that mindset is another goal on the horizon—to continue her education through nursing school. A renewed step, the rise of the hill now passed, Fatimeh moves onward, like she always has—her next hill is in sight.