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In Their Own Words: On the Front Lines of a National Crisis

Charlotte Berry

Charlotte BerryI first learned about Orinoco Coffee and Tea through an internship fair at HCC. I’ve worked here for five years now. It’s a small, local, family-owned business known for fresh coffee roasted to order and sold in beautiful packaging featuring Venezuelan folk art patterns. 

Although I started at HCC as a culinary and management student, I earned my associate and bachelor ’s degrees in accounting. My mix of hospitality and accounting experience has made this work a good fit, and I help with bookkeeping, trade shows, and a little bit of everything. 

As a small business in the food service industry right now , we are really living day to day. Our typical daily sales deliveries are down about 80 percent. Thankfully, we have a number of grocery stores carrying our coffee, including Giant Food, and we recently landed a new deal with a West Coast grocery store chain that’s been looking to keep their shelves stocked. Our website sales are also up. 

I’m thrilled that I’m able to work and that there’ s no traffic on the roads, but it can be stressful. We’re all wearing masks and gloves, maintaining our distance, and trying to keep things going so we can plan ahead. We’re cleaning up, organizing, and putting things into place for the explosion that hopefully happens after this. While everything is unpredictable, I’m hopeful that life will resume back to normal, and we will get busy again. 

– Charlotte Berry, HCC graduate in accounting (2016) and business assistant at Orinoco Coffee and Tea 

Madison Baltimore

Working in a grocery store at the beginning of the pandemic was stressful; I’m not going to lie. Sometimes customers didn’t understand why we couldn’t do things like take reusable bags or write rain checks. For my own safety, I had to bring gloves and hand sanitizer from home. 

I remember an instance when a couple came in right before we closed one night with a young infant in a carrier basket. They were looking for baby formula, but there wasn’t any on the shelf. I felt really bad for them, needing to buy this essential item, b ut not being able to find it anywhere. 

Another time, a customer was at the customer service desk for almost a whole hour. I thought he had a complaint, but it turns out he was purchasing gift cards for every employee working that day, all worth $5 each. One other customer also insisted on giving me a $10 tip even after I said he didn’t need to tip me. Those were the positive moments. 

Overall, I hope more people will show respect to cashiers. We are under stress and putting ourselves at risk to work. Luckily, I’ve taken a break from work for now , but many of my coworkers are still there, helping to hold society together . 

– Madison Baltimore, Current HCC social sciences student (2021) 

Kristin Alder

I am a medical laboratory technologist working in the microbiology lab at a hospital, where I’ve worked since graduating from HCC in 2018. 

At the lab, we are processing a lot of COVID-19 samples from hospitals, nursing homes, drive-thru testing and other places. We have limited testing supplies since the tests are so new. Only so many testing kits and supplies are available. One of the hardest parts about this whole thing is that everything is constantly evolving—the way we are testing, collecting samples, where we send patient samples. There is new information every day. 

One of the best parts is when you call a physician or nurse wit h a result, you can hear how relieved they are to have a definitive diagnosis. It is also great how everyone at the hospital is working as a team, eager to help one another. It is definitely rewarding to have a part in helping during this pandemic. 

– Kristin Alder, HCC graduate in medical laboratory technician program (2018), current member of the medical laboratory technician program advisory committee 

Gina Netreba

Gina Netreba

I’m currently deployed in a COVID-19 hot zone in New Jersey working for a private ambulance company. We’re working 12 hours on and 12 hours off, seven days a week, responding to 911 calls. It’s been incredibly terrifying, rewarding, and exhausting. 

At home in Maryland, I had been transporting COVID patients between facilities like nursing homes and hospitals. Here in New Jersey, my experience has been very different from what I’m used to seeing back home. On a normal shift, I’ll run four to s ix COVID patients while still responding to the usual calls for things like overdoses and car accidents. Multiply the COVID calls by 25 ambulance trucks and that number is crazy high for just one shi ft in one city. I wish people would understand the importance of social distancing, so that we don’t get hot zones like this everywhere. 

Despite the difficulties, it’s rewarding to help people – both the emergency medical workers and the patients. So many people have expressed how grateful they are for our help. As I finish the paramedic program at HCC, this experience will most definitely play a part in my future. I’ve used so much of what I have learned in my classes while working here, and I’m also excited to share what I have learned from this experience with my professors. 

Esther Lian, Gina Netreba, Current HCC paramedic program student (2021) 

Esther Lian

Esther LianI’ve been in the EMS field since I was 17. I’m now a 21-year-old paramedic and current student in the paramedic to RN pathway program at HCC. 

I work three jobs, and one is for a private ambulance company that deploys workers when a national emergency occurs. This is how I ended up in New York City for the past month. 

For a while, I was constantly transporting positive-COVID patients back-to-back from one hospital to another, or if they were stable enough, taking them home or to rehab. I also served at a makeshift hospital, providing an extra set of hands to help care for patients. 

I’m honestly grateful and honored to be a part of the huge effort to fight this pandemic. It’s definitely overwhelming. I’ve had a few breakdowns because of stress and some of the things I’ve experienced, including a 95-year-old patient who asked me if we were taking him to his “funeral place.” Mentally and physically, we’re all exhausted, but everyone is still fighting. 

The camaraderie that we have among health care providers, the support I’ve gotten from back home, and the warm welcome from the New York Police Department and Fire Department have been strong and effective in helping me push through. 

I’m really passionate about the medical field and helping people in their times of need. I really love doing this work, so I am honored to be a part of this fight. 

Esther Lian, HCC paramedic certificate graduate (2019) and current nursing student

Colby Manekin

Colby ManekinI’m in HCC’s Construction Management Apprenticeship Program, working for Hamel Builders with a current rotation in the safety department. 

The safety of workers on job sites is the most important thing. Construction is a rather dangerous profession, with a lot of hazards. So what we try to do is make sure people are working safely and following government guidelines and regulations. Usually this involves things like wearing helmets and glasses and following certain procedures. 

But with the coronavirus, it’s almost like doubling, if not tripling, the potential hazards. We’ve created new workplace safety policies including washing hands when you arrive at a site, wearing masks and gloves, and staying six feet apart. I’ve helped to make sure workers have access to hand washing and sanitizing stations and supplies. Initially we had to make our own hand sanitizer because we couldn’t find any, until we started getting it from a local distillery. 

At Hamel Builders, a lot of what we do is affordable housing. So there’s an urgency to our work so people have a place to live. It is an essential job. I’m glad I can play a part in helping construction workers stay safe and healthy. 

Colby Manekin, Current HCC construction management apprenticeship student and graduate in general studies-business, leadership, technology (2019) 

Stanley Tabugbo

Stanley TabugboI was born in the United States, but grew up in Nigeria. My dad was a pharmacist in the States, and when he came on trips to Nigeria, he would always bring one luggage full of medication that people would line up for. He helped people financially, too. People would always say, “You have a great dad.” 

As a teen, I originally wanted to become a math teacher, but after my dad sat me down to talk about the future, within 10 minutes I switched to pharmacy. I went to HCC and earned an associate [degree] in pre-pharmacy, and came back to HCC later for a nursing externship. After doing nursing, I went to pharmacy school. Now, I work as a full-time pharmacist in Washington State and as a registered nurse on call with three different agencies. 

With the pandemic, I personally feel like it’s a privilege to get to serve people through my expertise and work. Is my mother worried? Yes, she is. Am I? Not really. Just like military members on deployment, we can’t let fear rule us. 

My phone has been blowing up with calls from family in Nigeria asking if I’m okay. They ask why I have to go out and work. But I tell them, I have to. I have to go out there and help people who are sick. Just imagine if we stopped working-people like my patients with asthma, hypertension, or diabetes would not be able to get their medication. I’ve had patients tell me they do n’t know what they would do if they couldn’t get their prescriptions filled. It’s fulfilling to be out here serving, when others have to stay in. 

Stanley Tabugbo, RN, ParmD.
   HCC graduate in pre-pharmacy (2006)
   HCC nursing externship (2011)


David Kamuiru

"I graduated from HCC’s accelerated nursing program in 2008 and worked in a surgical intensive care unit (ICU) before earning a master’s in anesthesia in 2013. I have been working as a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) in Michigan since. 

"Working in the surgical unit of a hospital with a group of CRNAs, we cover elective and emergency cases daily with only a minimal number of patients needing intubation for respiratory distress. During this pandemic however, inserting breathing tubes into patients’ airways has become our primary job. 

"On the morning when I performed my first intubation on a COVID patient, I bent over the patient to begin her intubation when my face shield accidentally popped off! I thought, “Great! Now I am exposed. This is NOT going well!” Thankfully, I had a backup N95 mask behind the shield. After setting everything back in place, the procedure went without another hitch. 

"That scene replays in my mind often and has forced me to seriously contemplate what I do. Whenever I have the privilege to train CRNA students, the first thing I emphasize is the importance of managing one’s emotions. I tell them that patients are almost always scared, have no control, and need my clear judgement. As a provider, I must be present, focus on the patient and move quickly because time is of the essence. It is an intense, stressful, high-stakes responsibility, and I love it. I thoroughly enjoy what I do. I prepare and take every precaution, and then I put myself and everything else aside to help the patient. 

"As a husband and father, I want to keep my family safe, and as a precaution, I now sleep in the basement and wear a mask at home. I have made peace with knowing that my job, especially in this pandemic, puts me in the line of danger. However, I will show up and keep working regardless. No matter what happens, I am where I need to be."

– David Kamuiru, HCC graduate in accelerated nursing (2009) 

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Topics: Success Stories
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