For Cristina Chiappe nursing has been more than a career. It has been a vocation for most of her life. Born in Chili, after completing college, she moved to Los Angeles where she obtained her teaching credentials from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). Upon finishing UCLA, Cristina became a teacher at the Centinela Valley Adult School in Lawndale, CA where she worked for over twelve years.
However, not too long ago, Cristina lost her job due to budget cuts and, as a result of a long period of unemployment, she also lost her home. As Cristina has always measured her own career success based on the success of her students, it was a deep and personal blow to not be able to continue making a difference in the lives of her students, many of whom had made great personal sacrifices to attend her classes.
However, through sheer determination and a little bit of creativity, Cristina kept her commitment to her students and continued to teach them through a Medical Assistant program without a school or a salary. To help the leftover sixteen students from her class, Cristina set up a school in secret.
This may sound like another Hollywood movie, but it is the true story of a woman who refused to take no for an answer. Profiled by CNN for her determination to see her students graduate from her initial program, Cristina has gone on to not only pull herself out of financial difficulties, but also to help young women and men, armed with Medical Assistant and LVN qualifications taught by her, move on to finding careers of their own in medical offices across Southern California.
“I never dreamed they would sacrifice my program, because it had helped so many people in the community. Honestly, I was in a state of shock,” said Chiappe. “Modesty aside, I ran a good program, and the medical community in my area recognized that my students were well-prepared.”
Chiappe, a member of the board of neighboring Hawthorne School District, tried to fight the termination of her class. Her class was canceled anyway. Chiappe’s commitment to her students made her decide to keep teaching – without pay. It was a risky move. Even though Chiappe received a business license from Los Angeles County to run a nonprofit school, her application for a permit from the city of Lawndale was turned down due to inadequate parking. So she rented a space, and the class met in secret.
“I didn’t want to leave my students with nothing. The school district cut the money back, but this was not at all about money. It was about education and a future for my students,” she said. “The students wanted to continue so I proposed that if we could open our own site…we’d be able to buy all the equipment so that they could have hands-on training. And we did it.”
Of her 20 original students, 16 stayed on. They used their tuition refund of $1,600. each to purchase over $15,000. worth of used medical equipment so they would have something to practice with. They bought sterilizers, machines to measure lung capacity, surgical instruments, a blood spinner, CPR dolls, a fake arm with a needle to practice drawing blood, books, an examining table, an electrocardiogram machine, instruments to test hearing and vision, and more.
Students met with Chiappe four days a week and finished the course with a graduation ceremony complete with caps and gowns. All 16 of Cristina’s graduates were placed in 160-hour “externships” in medical offices. (An externship is similar to an internship, generally offered by career college educational institutions to give students short practical experiences in their field of study.) By now, they have all been hired on full time as medical assistants.
Since then, Chiappe has formed the South Bay Career Institute, a 501c3 non-profit organization that provides a variety of Medical Assistant and LVN programs primarily to under-privileged women and men. In addition, Cristina works full time as a teacher at Family First, a charter school for high risk young adults many of whom were previous high school drop outs. To date, Cristina has trained over 1600 students though her vocational training programs and says that this is just the beginning.
“You do what you have to do,” says Chiappe. “And sometimes you have to show the world what is happening with the state of education especially in California. I have no regrets whatsoever. If anything, I’m more determined than ever to help these young people build a dream career in the medical commuity.”
Charitable donations are welcome. For more information, Chiappe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 901-3704.