Jackie Clemons of Mountainboro scrolled through on her social media feed one day when one particular post caught her eye.
She saw a graphic on Snead State Community College’s Facebook page advertising an extended application deadline for the Certified Adult Nursing Assistant Program.
“I was interested in the program because I needed to know about caring for my aging family. The study materials were on long-term care and home care,” she said.
At the time, she had no idea that enrolling in the program would equip her to handle a major change in her life.
“Little did I know, it was God preparing me for my husband’s future cancer diagnosis.”
Jackie’s husband, Chris, discovered a knot on his neck at the beginning of her second semester. At first, it was dismissed as something antibiotics and other medications would take care of. They planned a bucket list trip to camp at Disney’s Fort Wilderness in Orlando, Fla. The knot on his neck reappeared during their trip.
“We made another doctor’s appointment as soon as possible. Because of the unknown, waiting for doctors’ appointments is one of the most agonizing ventures ever!”
During this time, Snead State closed its campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and students with face-to-face classes migrated to online learning. Before this, Jackie was working in a nursing home as part of her CNA requirements, but the pandemic prevented her from continuing that.
“Chris’ biopsy and throat cancer journey began shortly thereafter. Battling throat cancer is one of the most horrific cancers to live with. May God bless everyone fighting this disease, and pray for their caregivers,” she said.
As her husband’s full-time caregiver, she has put what she learned in the CNA program to use. But when she first checked into enrolling, she wasn’t convinced going to college was the right choice.
Her first chance to enroll came one day when she was running errands. She passed by the Admissions Office at Snead State, but didn’t stop. Once she arrived back home, however, the burden to find out more about the CNA program was overwhelming.
“I decided to call (then Nursing Program Director) Dr. (Dee) McClellan to have her talk me out of it due to the fact I was old and had already scheduled my second total knee replacement for that year,” said the 60-year-old. “But no. The CNA class was offered through a grant program initiated by Dr. McClellan. She saw a critical need for preparing as many as possible to care for the numerous aging adults. Her words (to me) were ‘go to admissions right now.’”
When Jackie went to enroll, she didn’t realized that the CNA classes began in three days. The biggest challenge for her was figuring out how to get a copy of her high school transcript 41 years after her high school graduation. The transcript is an admission requirement for Snead State, but Jackie said the Admissions staff was “great in assisting with getting me in the system on such short notice.”
Jackie had retired as a U.S. Postal Service postal clerk after 30 years of service, and the idea of going to college after all that time was daunting.
“I felt apprehensive about how I would be accepted by the other students. I worried the teacher and students would dread having the ‘old one’ slow us all down. But it gives you an opportunity to mentor and share any life experience and skills that might help the younger students. They didn’t seem to mind having a grandmotherly friend,” Jackie said.
“Jackie was a joy to have in the Adult CNA/HHA (Certified Nursing Assistant/Home Health Assistant) class. Her faith, sweet spirit, tender heart, patience and gentleness were all great assests that seemed to help her fit in with the long-term care residents during clinicals,” said Jessica Kirkwood-Harp, CNA and Clinical Nursing Instructor at Snead State. “I am extremely proud of this inaugural Adult CNA/HHA graduating class, but I am especially honored to have been a witness to God’s plan and purpose for this season in Jackie’s life.”
Even with the challenges Jackie faced with her husband’s cancer, she appreciated the joys she found while working at the nursing home.
“Our class was made aware of an acronym, ADL, meaning activities of daily living. Being able to dress yourself is one. If you want to feel good about what you can do, when COVID-19 allows, go visit or volunteer at a nursing home. It really touched my heart when a 12-year-old girl (did) and was excited about painting the fingernails of the lady residents. It doesn’t take riches to be a blessing,” she said.
Jackie has no immediate plans to continue her education, “but it’s a future possibility,” she said.
For now, her focus is on helping her husband get healthy. The two enjoy camping and spending time with their five children and 11 grandchildren. Jackie also has a passion for southern gospel music, which gives her another reason to love Snead State.
“I am a mediocre pianist but played and sang with different groups part time for a span of 40 years. Snead allows the greatest gift for southern gospel enthusiasts each summer with the Alabama School of Gospel Music held on campus.”
In addition to being a student, Jackie also participates in the Snead State Community Choir, a non-auditioned group of singers made up of Snead students, faculty, staff, and persons from the Sand Mountain region who love to sing.
She graduated in distinction in the spring 2020 with her CNA certificate. Throughout her experience as a Snead State student, Jackie said she appreciate the work of the faculty.
“Each teacher at Snead has had a devout desire for giving you the best opportunity to be successful. Kudos to Mrs. Jessica Harp for giving 110 percent to all of her students. Maybe that career you said you wanted to be when you grew up – it’s now within your reach.
“Negotiate with your excuses! From mechanics to music lessons, SSCC will help you find your niche!”