Tracy Fletcher had the job she wanted, a management gig at a long-term care facility. Then, without warning, the job was gone, and she had to start over.

For Fletcher, it meant starting over from scratch.

“I had administrative and management experience, but I didn’t have clinical knowledge,” she explained. So she went in search of a new career.

And that led her to Jeremiah’s Hope Academy. Part of St. Vincent’s Hospital in Birmingham, Jeremiah’s Hope is a stand-alone workforce readiness program that prepares students for entry-level positions in the healthcare industry. That appealed to Fletcher, who was willing to sacrifice her management trajectory for the chance to help people at the ground level.

“I took a big pay cut because my roles were reversed,” Fletcher explained. “It was like I started all the way over.”

Today Fletcher is an employment specialist and medical instructor at Jeremiah’s Hope in a building across the street from the sprawling St. Vincent’s campus. For 12 to 24 weeks of training, depending on the program, she helps a new wave of students prepare for healthcare careers.

Armed with nationally recognized certifications such as Phlebotomist, Patient Care Assistant, and Mental Health Technician, Jeremiah’s Hope graduates often have no problem finding work.

Alli Pilkington is one of the newest class of students. A few months ago, she was majoring in elementary education and working at a daycare part time. Now she’s studying to become a phlebotomist.

“I still want to work with kids, but I don’t want to teach,” said Pilkington on a day where she took finals and met with career placement specialists. “I liked college, but the pace here is so much faster. You have to learn everything in 12 weeks. I think the difference is that, before, I was looking at getting a job – not something I wanted to do the rest of my life. Now I’m looking at a career in a field that will always be in demand.”

Graduates from Jeremiah’s Hope often have no problem finding work. The certifications – including Phlebotomist, Patient Care Assistant, Mental Health Technician, Medical Office Assistant, Clinical Medical Assistant and Sterile Processing Technician – are nationally recognized. So while the focus is to produce entry-level employees for Birmingham’s large medical community, graduates can find jobs and advance their careers over time across the country. Jeremiah’s Hope also adjusts certification specialties to meet demand.

St. Vincent’s Foundation provides partial scholarships for students with financial need. It also helps in other ways – bus passes, gas cards, medical care and accredited child care. The latter two are pitch-perfect perks for single mothers enrolled in Jeremiah’s Hope.

Susan Sellers is president of the foundation, which was established 35 years ago to raise funds and support for new programs, with a focus on education, equipment, technology and capital expansion. St. Vincent’s Foundation supports Jeremiah’s Hope and recently funded the opening of a campus on the east side of the city.

“St. Vincent’s Birmingham is landlocked,” Sellers explained. “As much as we want to expand here, there’s no available land. By moving to St. Vincent’s East, we will be able to reach more rural communities, as well.”

We’re changing the trajectory of lives, which changes everything for a community.
Susan Sellers, St. Vincent’s Foundation president

The new campus pairs with an 80-bed mental-care facility, offering mental health certification – another growing need in the industry.

“Jeremiah’s Hope appeals to a lot of corporations because it makes economic sense. We’re changing the trajectory of lives, which changes everything for a community,” Sellers said.

Regions believes strongly in the value of workforce readiness, and local executives recognize the impressive track record of Jeremiah’s Hope, making it a natural fit for the bank’s community engagement strategy. With a focus on bridging the skills gap and helping individuals gain credentials in high-demand careers, Regions Bank invested in Jeremiah’s Hope to enable expansion and increase available scholarships.

“I’ve described Birmingham as a ‘brother’s keepers’ community,” said Alan Register, the Birmingham Market Executive for Regions. “You can look at how the community rallied around each other after the April 2011 tornadoes. Jeremiah’s Hope has that brother’s keepers mentality. This investment will have a tremendous return for our community. And in building a stronger community, we build a stronger Regions.”

Regions has invested in Jeremiah’s Hope to enable expansion and increase scholarship availability, helping students “bloom with grace.” Jeremiah’s Hope President Susan Sellers, left, and Regions’ Birmingham Market Executive Alan Register are spearheading the effort to bridge the skills gap in the community.

Hannah Chamblee wants to build a better future for herself.

After testing the waters in a local community college, she’s wrapping up certification as a Clinical Medical Assistant, a 24-week program that includes advanced skills such as phlebotomy and EKGs, as well as taking vital signs and assisting with physician examinations.

“This is the Cadillac of the programs here,” Chamblee said with a smile. “And my view is that the more certifications I can get, the more options I will have.”

Like Pilkington, Chamblee feels the pace and one-on-one teaching at Jeremiah’s Hope are better suited for her. So are the expectations: “Here, you have to take care of your own responsibilities,” she said. “The teachers are here to help, but you have to prove yourself daily.”

On this day, Pilkington and Chamblee will pass their final tests and meet with potential employers.  They are just two of the latest success stories: Each year, Jeremiah’s Hope graduates 160 students, and 94 percent of those graduates pass the national certification exams.

“My responsibility is to provide philanthropic support,” Sellers said. “But I feel we do a lot more than raise money for Jeremiah’s Hope Academy. I’ve seen what happens here. I’ve seen the successes these students have. And I’m personally invested in their futures.”