Our vision: the program offers a path for healthcare professionals

Our vision: the program offers a path for healthcare professionals

Becoming American Thumbs up to expanding a proven program that both guides students to success and helps diversify the local workforce. In 1988, Yong Nhia Lor fled Laos for a new life in the United States. He brought with him a small amount of money from his years as a soldier in Laos, his wife and five children.

Riverland Community College is now seeking state funds to create its own program at its campuses in Austin, Albert Lea and Owatonna. But the program, officials say, would be re-invented and scaled to meet the area’s own economic needs, with a focus on manufacturing as well as health care. Since the program was started in 2013, 552 graduates have found work in health care fields, 40 percent at Mayo Clinic.

“We’re trying to reach out to a broader network of businesses to help us,” said Barbara Embacher, Riverland’s vice president for academic and student affairs. A collaboration between the Hawthorne Center, Workforce Development, Inc., and Rochester Community and Technical College, Bridges to Healthcare pairs students with a career counselor, called a “navigator,” who helps the student overcome obstacles with resources such as tuition, tutoring and transportation.

After two years in St. Paul, Lor and his family moved to Winona, where he found work in food production. He worked there until 2006, when a car crash left him severely injured and he was put on disability. Lor and his family initially settled in St. Paul, where he took English language classes and learned enough to get a job.

In 1975, the Laotian king abdicated, leaving the country to its new communist rulers. Lor lived in the Laotian jungles for some time, but the family eventually made its way out of his native country and, with the help of aid organizations, obtained refugee status and immigrated to the United States. Now, 33 years later, the Winona man is ready to become a U.S. citizen like his wife and two of his five Laos-born children.

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