New Community leaders reported how Ilene Villanueva transitioned from homelessness to a career in the medical field with the help of this transitional housing.

Officials say Villanueva always wanted to work in the medical field.

She said that even when she was a child, people sought her out for help with translation or other tasks when she went to doctor’s appointments or to the emergency room.

Her hopes of becoming a doctor seemed out of reach when she became a mother at a young age and was unable to complete high school.

She worked for a food service and a pharmacy in New York before moving to New Jersey.

She found herself in a situation where her landlord only wanted cash rent payments and he would not provide a lease. He changed the locks and she was left homeless with her children.

Villanueva then found Harmony House, New Community’s transitional housing for homeless families.

She spent time there in 2017 and 2018 before moving to permanent accommodation.

Harmony House employees informed her that the New Community Career & Technical Institute (NCCTI) offered a High School Equivalency (HSE) program, which was conveniently located next door.

She took the opportunity and earned her GED in 2018.

While completing the HSE program, Villanueva discovered the accredited post-secondary medical programs offered by the NCCTI.

She decided to enroll in the Medical Assistant Clinical (MAC) program to get on the path to a career.

The recent death of Villanueva’s father has renewed her interest in a medical career.

“I thought, I really want to get into the medical field so I can be a person to change it, to be there for people,” she said.

She completed the MAC program in 2020 and started working full-time at the University Hospital in April this year as an Ambulatory Care Technician.

In this role, she takes patients’ vital signs; provides customer service to patients; schedule, cancel and remind patients of appointments; and releases patients.

Villanueva said she loved the first job of her medical career.

“I went much further than other people who have been working there for years. And it’s thanks to the school because they taught me,” she said.

At 29, Villanueva hopes to continue her education and become a registered nurse.

Her journey shows how the NCCTI can serve as a bridge to get students where they want to be.

“NCCTI provides students with the stepping stones to create a foundational layer upon which they can grow or grow,” said NCCTI Director Dr. Sylvia McCray.

“The work we do here is to revive a dead dream or a buried goal. We know that the way to improve your life and your situation begins with education and training.

“That’s our main goal. Our mission is to empower students so they can see what we see: opportunity, growth, and choice for themselves.

Odette Phillip was one of Villanueva’s HSE instructors who helped her get her GED.

“At first it was a challenge for her in terms of attendance due to the fact that she had limited support outside of school. She overcame this by staying after class when she could to catch up on the missed work. Ilene gave her best and I admire her determination,” said Phillip.

“I’m really proud of his accomplishments so far.”

Villanueva said Phillip, her MAC instructor and everyone else she met at New Community helped her.

“They really cared and said I saw what you were going through. I want to be here. I am open ears and open hands and open information. Anything they could think of, they always pushed me to do,” Villanueva said.

“They’ve been there for me like you couldn’t imagine. At the bottom, they were there. They didn’t judge me. And they helped me.

In addition to being happy to go to school and start a career that she is passionate about, Villanueva is proud to be a good role model for her four children.

“My kids saw the steps I took, so they tried to do the same,” she said.

“So everyone is going home with certificates of honor.”

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