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Up until May 2020, Carissa Hernandez loved her job at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs.

Carissa Hernandez

In May Carissa Hernandez of New Castle, here with husband Hernan Hernandez and son Daniel Lewis, was furloughed from Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs due to the effects of the pandemic. Hernandez is now studying at CMC thanks to the CMC Responds: Back to Work Scholarship.

“Valley View is a great place to work,” said Hernandez, who lives in New Castle with her husband and 6-year-old son.

As part of the hospital’s central medical supply team, Hernandez stocked everything from syringes to thermometers. However, that all changed on May 11, when she was furloughed from her job due to COVID-19 workplace restructuring. To make matters worse, her husband also lost his hotel job due to impacts from the virus. “We have lots of bills,” she said. “We’ve been stressing the last three months.”

But a new program at Colorado Mountain College, called the CMC Responds: Back to Work Scholarship, is giving a financial boost to Hernandez and others across the seven-county college district, enabling them to return to school to retool their skills and improve their options for finding new work.

A way out

Another such recipient of the scholarship is Frank Donaldson, who has lived in Glenwood Springs on and off for the past 10 years. He was self-employed in event production, coordinating décor and lighting for large Fortune 500 conferences in places like Vail and Aspen.

“I was going to be so busy this summer,” Donaldson said. “Though once COVID hit, there were no events, no big gatherings” – and there was no work.

Abruptly, the pandemic forced both Hernandez and Donaldson to rethink their occupations. That’s when they found the CMC Responds: Back to Work Scholarship, which provides money for tuition and other expenses for qualified workers who have had their hours reduced or were laid off or furloughed because of COVID-19. At CMC, students are able to study for new professions that can help them be more resilient in the event of a sudden downturn in the economy.

The funds are part of a $750,000 Displaced Workers Grant being distributed statewide by the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative, an innovative program of the Colorado Department of Higher Education that leverages public and private investment to make post-high school education available to more Colorado students.

The Displaced Workers Grant enables public colleges, workforce centers and training programs to provide  professional staff to support displaced workers and help students access multiple sources of financial aid to help them succeed. COSI is granting Colorado Mountain College with $150,000 over two years to provide dedicated professional student success staff to help these displaced workers.

Recipients of CMC’s Back to Work Scholarship have lost employment, lost jobs and regained employment but not at the same level, been temporarily furloughed, or had hours reduced and have received decreased pay due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The scholarships average $1,000 to $3,000, and sometimes more, depending on each student’s unmet need,” said Yesenia Arreola, CMC’s executive director of student affairs strategic projects and initiatives. “We ask all students to fill out the FAFSA or other institutional aid form when being considered for COSI funds. We want to make sure they are taking advantage of all available resources to help pay for the cost of attendance.”

Support is here

For Donaldson, CMC is familiar territory. He received an Associate of General Studies degree 10 years ago at the college, and is now studying digital media in CMC’s Isaacson School of Communication, Arts and Media. He hopes to either incorporate video production into his event production work in the future or practice videography solely.

“The scholarship has helped me so much,” said Hernandez. “I have always wanted to go back to school, and I don’t know when or if I’d be able to if it wasn’t for the scholarship and the help I got from CMC.”

Arreola said Colorado Mountain College’s goal is to grant 150 credentials to students through this scholarship during the next two years.

Contact cosi@coloradomtn.edu or visit https://coloradomtn.edu/scholarships/back-to-work-scholarship/ for more information and to contact an advisor about Colorado Mountain College’s Back to Work Scholarship.