28 August, 2018
NOW Program gives single mom opportunity to pursue “dream career”
Frieda Elston is the first to tell people that age is nothing but a number. At 45 years old, she has earned her third degree from Gadsden State Community College and is pursuing her “dream career” of being a registered nurse.
“I tell everybody I know that you’re never too old to achieve new things; great things,” she said.
Elston and 40 others received their Registered Nursing pins Aug. 8 at the Beck Conference Center on the Wallace Drive Campus. The group also graduated with Associate in Applied Science degrees on Aug. 9 at Word Alive Church in Oxford.
“It was a great day when we graduated,” Elston said. “When my best friend saw me walk across that stage, she was inspired to do the same. Now, she has the ball rolling to enroll at Gadsden State and hopefully get accepted into the nursing program. Like I said, no one should let their age stop them from trying new things.”
Elston graduated from Munford High School in 1991 before enrolling at Gadsden State. She earned her associate degree in Medical Laboratory Technology in 1993. For the next 25 years, she worked as a medical lab technician at medical centers, clinics and doctor’s offices. She currently works for Hematology and Oncology Associates of Alabama in Gadsden.
“I worked in oncology for 10 years when I decided I wanted to be a part of my patients’ lives outside of the medical lab,” she said. “I just have a love for people. I treat my patients like family. I don’t want to just run samples. I want to be a part of their lives and a part of their care. I like being there for people.”
With the seed to pursue nursing already planted, she saw a Facebook advertisement about the Nights Online Weekends (NOW) Program at Gadsden State Cherokee. The program allows nursing students to take classes and complete clinical training at night, online and on the weekends.
“When I saw the Facebook ad, it was perfect timing,” she said. “My mind was made up. A week later, I went to a meeting to learn more about the program. I applied and got in the nursing program the first time I tried. Everything worked out perfectly. I call it a ‘God-thing.’”
The flexibility of the program allows students to work fulltime and take care of their families while pursuing a college education. Elston earned an associate degree in licensed practical nursing in 2017 before continuing her education to become a registered nurse.
“Had it not been for the NOW Program, I wouldn’t have been able to pursue my nursing career,” she said. “I’m a single mother of two so not working was not an option. I worked, went to school and came home to study. I did a lot of late-night and early-morning studying. My family and I made a lot of sacrifices but we made it.”
Elston worked eight hours a day in the medical lab at HOAA. Two days a week, she went to the Gadsden State campus in Centre to take classes from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. before making the hour-drive home to Wellington in Calhoun County. She also had to complete clinical training at several healthcare facilities, including Children’s of Alabama, Cherokee Health and Rehabilitation Center, Gadsden Regional Medical Center, Riverview Regional Medical Center and Mountainview Hospital.
“We went to a lot of places, saw a lot of things and met a lot of people,” she said. “It was a great experience.”
Through the long days and challenging classes, Elston’s determination never wavered. She said she was motivated by her children, Cedric, 14, a freshman at Alexandria High School, and Aerial, 21, a retail employee.
“I can look at them and say, ‘Nothing is impossible. I did it and so can you,’” she said. “I want them to be proud of me.”
She also had a great support system from her co-workers and her church family as well as her grandmother, Mozelle Elston, and her father, Henry Elston.
“I wanted to give up sometimes but they pushed me to succeed,” she said. “I quit a thousand times in my mind but I made it. I survived.”
She was also inspired by her mother, the late Virginia Elston, who graduated from Gadsden State in 1972 and worked as a nurse for over 30 years at RMC in Anniston.
“I had a picture of her in my graduation cap so I felt her close to me,” she said. “I know she is proud of me.”
During the pinning ceremony, Elston was announced as the Florence Nightingale Award winner for Gadsden State Cherokee. It is given to a graduate who shows outstanding clinical performance; compassion, respect and dedication for others; warmth and understanding in clinical practice; and good moral character.
“Receiving the award was very unexpected,” she said. “I wasn’t seeking the award. I just worked hard.
And, I loved the nursing program and everything that came with it. I guess my passion was noticed by my instructors. I’m grateful and humbled by the award.”
Other students also received special recognition during the pinning ceremony. The Nightingale Award for the McClellan Center went to Jami Ricketts. Kelsey Hughes from the McClellan Center was honored for having the highest GPA with a perfect 4.0. Those who were recognized for having at least a 3.5 GPA are Amanda Schlieger and JoLeanne Watts, both from the McClellan Center, and Jessica Bartlett from the NOW program at Gadsden State Cherokee.
Students who earned their RN pins and associate degrees are:
Altoona: Brittany Danielle Nix
Anniston: Diana Alvarez, Rachael Belcher, Brandon Danieley, Katrina Edwards, Anna Ito and Brandi Andrews Woosley
Argo: Shelby Busler
Ashville: Cody McKay
Cedar Bluff: Kelly Hutchins
Centre: Amie Henderson, Noah Malinowski and Christopher Ryan Wilson
Childersburg: JoLeanne Watts
Fort Payne: Kelsey Hughes and Kristyn Wooten
Hokes Bluff: Joy Faulkner and Brad Pollard
Jacksonville: Alissa Brown, Casey Morris, Jami Ricketts and Andrew Williams
Leesburg: Jessica Bartlett and Bobbie Jo Chambers
Lincoln: Misty Woods
Ohatchee: Kristin Grubbs
Pell City: Amanda Schlieger
Piedmont: Kaitlyn Dawson and Ashley Hairrell
Pleasant Valley: Amanda Jones
Sand Rock: Magan Street
Southside: Kayla Autwell and Jessica Prankienas
Spring Garden: Ashley Payne
Wellington: Frieda Elston
Stockton, Calif.: Cecilia Juarez
Rome, Ga.: Tracy Floyd
Summerville, Ga.: Kelsey King and Kristian Mobbs
Tallapoosa, Ga.: Katie Reeves
New Orleans: Dominique Wells