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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The biggest field of employment in Rhode Island is in healthcare and social assistance, but the pandemic has led to a growing need to fill vacant positions.

Those jobs require training, so the state has created the “Health Professional Equity Initiative” to help Rhode Islanders get the training they need to fill those open positions.

“I grew up in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. I came when I was 38, I think,” Silvia Adames said.

The 51-year-old moved to the United States with her husband and three daughters with the goal of working to better their lives.

“I didn’t know English so I started working in a factory, I heard about the program that they have at the library that you can go there and learn English, so I was going there right after work with my daughters,” she said.

She got a job as a home aid for seniors, then trained to be a CNA, a medical technician, and now a community health worker at Blackstone Valley Community Healthcare in Central Falls.

“I’m telling you there are a lot of opportunities, you just have to grab them,” Adames explained. “And right now with this program, you don’t have an excuse.”

The Health Professional Equity Initiative is a partnership between the Rhode Island Office of Postsecondary Education, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, and Rhode Island College.

Through the American Rescue Plan Act funding, healthcare paraprofessionals in Rhode Island can go back to school for free.

Adames, who was an accountant in the Dominican, is now working full-time while also getting her masters in social work at night.

“It was really very hard,” she said. “I felt that if God gave me the opportunity to get into this program, he’s going to have to take me out.”

The program, which runs through 2025 as of now, also aims to make the healthcare field more diverse in Rhode Island

“The goal is to get more individuals, Rhode Islanders, into those good jobs and not let education and training be an obstacle in the path,” said Dr. Shannon Giley, RI Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner.

Additionally, the Rhode Island Reconnect program provides funding for eligible students going back to school to continue their education without any obstacles in their way — for Adames that was a free laptop.

“We spend up to $3,200 per participant to help get those barriers taken care of. We’ve paid for mental health services, we’ve paid for dental work, we’ve paid for a lot of gas cards, grocery bills, childcare, laptops,” Dr. Giley said.

Adames hopes her story inspires other Rhode Islanders to apply.

“You have to take a step to do better for you, for yourself, for your family, and for your community, because me doing this, won’t just be for myself but for the community,” she said.

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