By George Kevin Jordan, AFRO Staff Writer

It was an emotional moment for many during the April 9 graduation ceremony of the AmeriHealth Caritas District of Columbia “Pathways to Work” program. Seven people received certificates showing they had finished the 12 week paid internship program, which provides training in hospitality and customer service skills in a classroom environment and then learning about healthcare while onsite at AmeriHealth Caritas. Interns are paired with a mentor during the internship process.

Graduates of this cohort include: Eseomon Aledan, Autumn Fennell, Iyana Davage, Robert Jordan, Melissa Spencer, Tonya Rawlings and Tamara Moses.

Seven people received certificates from the AmeriHealth Caritas District of Columbia “Pathways to Work” program on April 9. Here graduates, mentors and supervisors pose for the happy occasion. (Photo by George Kevin Jordan)

Karen Dale, market president for AmeriHealth Caritas District of Columbia, spoke to the AFRO about how the program got started.

“The idea I had was first and foremost we needed to be good stewards in the community we serve,” Dale said speaking of the impetus for the program. “This represents an investment in our community. We know that health is more than healthcare. So to have resilient communities, people must have the basics and essential and if you don’t have a job a lot of the basic and essentials are harder to have.

“So if we can pour in and help people who want to work – and most people want to work – what they need are all the right tools and resources and sustainable support in order to be successful. That’s the piece we thought we were uniquely positioned to provide.

Dale said that she and other program leaders continue to listen to graduates, learn and grow making new changes even with the current cohort.

“We’ve changed in a couple of ways,” Dale said. “One, we realized that diversity in the class is important. And diversity meaning we have people of varying levels of experience. We have more of a mix so people can see the possibilities they can support, engage, and mentor each other. A little bit more peer support built in and we’ve seen wonderful success from that.”

“Pathways to Work” graduate Tonya Rawlings (Right) receives the Sonya Dupont “Perseverance Award” from Stephanie Hafiz, Director of Member Engagement, AmeriHealth Caritas D.C. (Photo by George Kevin Jordan)

Tonya Rawlings, a D.C. resident and graduate was able to secure full time employment with AmeriHealth prior to even completing the internship. For her, the journey back through unemployment was foreign to her, having worked since she was 17-years-old. However what she learned about herself and her capabilities will hopefully carry her beyond her current career.

“I didn’t know what unemployment was,” Rawlings said. “When it happened I had just come out of a major surgery.”

Rawlings said she started as a registered medical assistant but moved to the administrative side when she couldn’t do the medical side due to an injury. When she lost her job she was shocked and unprepared for what came next.

“I had been in the medical field all my life,” she said. “I didn’t know unemployment, I didn’t know homelessness.”

Rawlings said that thankfully she only had to spend one night sleeping in her car before her son found out and helped her. But joblessness had an emotional toll on her.

“I hid it from my kids, and staying place to place,” she said. “It was hard. I didn’t know how I was going to make it. And all that stress.”

And the stress piled on as she lost her mother to cancer and her fiance’ to a pulmonary embolism six months later. The Pathways program was a source of hope, and offered her a place to see a larger picture for her life. She was able to take yoga, and learn about meditation. During the internship she even created a vision board.

“I didn’t want to come out of my dark space,” Rawlings said. “The Pathways program saved me mentally as well as physically. I got back to that positive me.”

She was so moved by her experience, she wants to one day start her homeless facility.

The Pathways program is open to all D.C. residents.

AmeriHealth Caritas District of Columbia is a Medicaid managed care health plan with a mission to help members get care, stay well, and build healthy communities.

The next round of internships begin in the fall of 2019. For more information please visit