Akron Children’s Career Launch program offers more than an employment opportunity. When accepted into the program, employees are paired with a mentor who provides guidance and motivation and helps the student connect to program benefits such as laptops, transportation and childcare reimbursement.
“As a mentor, I know what my student is going through because I know the teachers, classes and process of the Career Launch program,” said respiratory therapist Brooke Bennett, a recent graduate of Career Launch.
Brooke began working at Children’s as a medical assistant in 2019. When Career Launch started the same year, she saw it as an opportunity to pursue her goal of becoming a respiratory therapist, debt-free, while continuing to work part-time.
“During the program, my mentor was also pursuing another degree,” said Brooke. “She knew what it was like to balance school and work, so it was nice to check in and have someone to talk to who understood.”
When offered the chance to be a mentor, Brooke immediately signed on. Her mentee, whom she talks with multiple times a semester, is also studying to become a respiratory therapist.
“The mentorship program makes me feel like I have a place,” said Brooke. “The hospital values me as a therapist and now has given me a responsibility to help guide someone else.”
Career Launch currently supports 38 mentoring partnerships, with 12 students in the process of being matched. Mentors with active students are eligible for a quarterly bonus.
“We added this component to recognize mentors’ time and effort in supporting their students,” said Patrice Russell, program manager of Career Launch and Education Assistance.
To qualify for the bonus, mentors must meet with their students at least once per month, complete a monthly survey and participate in mentor meetings.
Emotional bonds formed from professional relationships
Kara Kaufman, a secretary at Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics, Akron East, began studying to become a medical assistant with Career Launch in January 2021.
“I come from a family of caregivers in the medical or military fields,” said Kara.
Kara was paired with mentor Shawna Roach, who has worked at Children’s for 25 years and began her career as a medical assistant. She now recruits physicians to the hospital.
“Being paired with Shawna was kismet,” said Kara. “She became an essential part of my journey for both emotional and informational support.”
Shortly after Kara started school, she gave birth to her daughter, Raelyn, who was diagnosed with Down Syndrome and at four months old needed to have open-heart surgery.
“This pulled Shawna and me even closer as mentor and mentee,” said Kara. “Shawna was phenomenal when Raelyn had her surgery; she showed us resources at the hospital that we wouldn’t have known about.”
Shawna related to Kara on multiple levels, as her brother also had Down Syndrome and her youngest daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor when she was younger. She knows what it is like to have a child with significant health care needs.
“I could be there for Kara from the personal aspect of this experience, not just the professional aspect,” reflected Shawna.
Although there was not a defined mentorship program when Shawna began working, her mentors still played an integral role in her career at Children’s.
“As a mentor, I can ask myself, ‘What did I need when I was new to the hospital, struggling with being a mom, and also balancing school and work?’ And sometimes you just needed someone there to listen and encourage you,” said Shawna.
Kara has persevered through school and work with the support of her family and her mentor, and she is on track to graduate in December 2023. Raelyn is also doing great in her recovery.
“How Kara has dealt with everything has been amazing, and I give her so much credit for not stopping,” said Shawna.
Kara now shares the resources and information that Shawna shared with her to families in her community who have children undergoing critical medical treatment, extending the impact of the program beyond this one-on-one relationship.
“The Career Launch mentorship program allows you to give back to the organization and to other employees,” said Shawna. “You’re passing the torch to the next generation of people who are going to be here to keep the mission and legacy of the hospital alive, so that’s why I think it’s so important.”
Learn more about Career Launch.