Yamile Alvarez was once a new immigrant, learning to adapt to American culture.
Now, she helps other people adapt to their own new environment – not in a new country but in a skilled nursing and rehab center.
Alvarez was working as an accountant at a hotel in Cuba when her life changed forever.
“I won the lottery of visas,” Alvarez explained. “I was one of the lucky ones.”
Government statistics show that only 691 Cubans received the lottery visa that year. In 2008, she and her 4-year-old son, Rene, arrived in Miami.
Neither of them spoke any English, though Rene picked up the language quickly at school. Alvarez shared some of his homework to try and learn as well, and Rene encouraged her along the way, even suggesting kids’ TV as a good way to learn.
“Believe it or not, I learned a lot from the cartoons,” Alvarez shared.
A friend in the Sarasota, Florida, area encouraged Alvarez to apply for a job at Life Care Center of Sarasota.
“Life Care was my help, my hope,” said Alvarez. “It was my American dream. When I started work here, I loved it.”
Alvarez started as a housekeeper in 2010, but she continued learning English and decided she wanted to do more for the precious residents at the center.
“I love to help people,” Alvarez said. “In my country, we take care of our elders, and I know that they need love. I wanted to fulfil my personal and professional goals.”
The team at Life Care Center of Sarasota, under the leadership of Nina Willingham, senior executive director, encouraged Alvarez to pursue her dream and apply for the CareerEdge scholarship. CareerEdge is a workforce development organization in the region and a partner with Life Care Center of Sarasota.
Alvarez filled out an application for a scholarship to a certified nursing assistant program at Sarasota County Technical Institute, and she won.
The language barrier made the education a challenge, but Alvarez thrives on challenges, and she found all the details of care fascinating.
“Knowing the things I can do to help people is amazing,” Alvarez said. “Everything was interesting.”
Alvarez completed the training and became a CNA in 2011. But she didn’t stop there. She went on to apply for the CareerEdge scholarship again to become a licensed practical nurse. Again, she won the scholarship and started working as an LPN in November 2014.
Today, she serves as an admissions assistant at Life Care Center of Sarasota and often puts her clinical training to use as she meets potential residents in the hospital and evaluates them for admission.
When residents are admitted, Alvarez said, “I have the pleasure to see everybody when they arrive, to take their picture, to give them an explanation of how everything works here, what they can expect, how they can get the things that they want.”
“Yamile is an exemplary associate,” said Willingham. “She has an effervescent personality and is a real blessing to us all with her work ethic. It has been such a pleasure watching her grow in her job responsibilities.”
This is not the end of Alvarez’s journey, however. She wants to go on to earn her RN license.
“My son is my inspiration,” said Alvarez. “I want him to go further than me.”