Dare to dream: A CNA’s journey

By November 29, 2020News

Certified Nursing Assistant Lorena Sandoval lets nothing stop her from pursuing her dream

Photo of Lorena Sandoval

Don’t put a pandemic in Lorena Sandoval’s path. 

Before stay-at-home orders locked down much of California, Sandoval had just started her career as a CNA at Royal Care Nursing Center – Covenant Care, and was finally able to enjoy the job she worked so hard to earn.

“First I worked in the kitchen (in nursing homes), then I took the opportunity for housekeeping, then this,” she said. “I thought it’s now or never. It was really hard because I didn’t have much schooling, but I didn’t want to let my kids down and I wasn’t going to let myself down.” 

Born in Mexico and raised in Long Beach, Sandoval left home at 16 and was homeless before an aunt took her in. At 18, she started a family, then raised four children before redefining her life path once more. Sandoval said Education Fund and SEIU Local 2015 representatives didn’t give up on pushing her to sign up for the Fund’s Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) program.

When she finished the CNA program, Sandoval said she cried all the way home on graduation day.

“I never had a diploma my whole life,” she said. “Where I am right now, it means a lot.”

While building up her CNA experience at Royal Care Nursing Center – Covenant Care, she also enrolled in the Education Fund’s first online instructor-led RNA (Restorative Nursing Assistant) certification class. She is getting specialized training to help patients gain strength and mobility.

Jon Peralez, Administrator at Royal Care, calls Sandoval one of the superstars of his nursing staff. “She started working as a CNA in February, right when the outbreak happened. There was a lot of stuff happening at that time, a lot of people unable to come to work. But we had superstars and Lorena was one of them,” he said. “She was here almost every day for at least one shift, if not two shifts. We really need that dedication. And she leads with her heart.”

Sandoval is also taking advantage of the Fund’s mental health and wellness workshops, to better take care of herself and her patients.

“I really like it,” she said of the workshops. “We talk about feelings and how to process grief. With coronavirus, our patients are losing family and we can help them. I know because my dad passed away 30 years ago and it still hurts. So I learned talking is good, and there are things you have in you that can help you find comfort. I find being in a group helps.”

Sandoval’s circle of support includes her children, two grandchildren and friends, as well as the Education Fund and SEIU L2015 team who she said believe in her.

“They kept telling us, ‘Don’t give up.’ It’s almost like it was personal to them that we reach our goals,” she said. “I’m so grateful.”

Union Nursing Home Lead Organizer Hector Flores agrees that a focus on mental health awareness and education is really important for nursing home workers not just in the context of the pandemic but also in the day-to-day work that they do. “They work with patients who have all sorts of medical conditions, and it’s draining work. They see a lot of just really daunting and distressing situations even without the pandemic,” he said. 

Sandoval’s innate fighting spirit is helping her live with positivity during the pandemic.

“I wake up every day and I renew myself somehow,” she said. “It’s hard to see our patients suffer, we have known them for so long. And it’s hard not knowing what’s going to happen, if you’ll get sick too, but life picks you up and brings you down. I’m not the type of person to stay down.”

Sandoval laughs when she says work is her de-stressor.

“I love what I do with all my heart, I love working in nursing homes, with the elderly. I love making them and my co-workers laugh,” she said.

The best medicine, too, includes spending time with family, taking her two dogs for walks or car rides, and reconnecting with her best friends.

“Everything I learn, I hold on to it like the most precious thing I have,” Sandoval said. “As for dreams, I would love to do home health and become an LVN. I’m a little afraid because it’s so much information for this brain, but whatever I can learn, I want to know it. I want to take advantage of life and what is given to me, and just do me. I want to prove to myself that I can do better.”