Lifelong Athens resident Cshanyse Allen, who holds a doctorate in nursing practice, comes from a family that prizes giving back to the community.
Her grandmother, Evelyn C. Neely, was the first black woman to serve on the Clarke County School Board. Her involvement with youth organizations and churches earned her the nickname “the mayor of East Athens.” Allen’s mother, Evelyn Dyann Neely Allen-Jordan, held a job training women in construction at the “Iron Triangle” intersection in East Athens.
Allen’s upbringing inspired her to found the Innovative Healthcare Institute on Seagraves Drive in East Athens.
“I always wanted to give back to my community in any type of way that I could,” Allen said.
Innovative certifies nurse aides and technicians pursuing patient care, phlebotomy and electrocardiogram training. However, Innovative has recently been affected by funding cuts in the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.
WIOA funds flow through the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission, which serves 12 counties, including Athens-Clarke. These funds support low-income students at Innovative.
Organizations in Athens-Clarke County funded by WIOA have undergone cuts in funding due to the area’s low unemployment rate, which is used to determine the volume of funds received each year, ACC Mayor Kelly Girtz said.
Allen, students and employees of Innovative attended an ACC Mayor and Commission meeting on Sept. 3 to seek help. Allen sent emails to Gov. Brian Kemp, state Rep. Spencer Frye and the Mayor and Commission to raise awareness and seek assistance for funding for “the sector of the population that is going to get cut off,”Allen said.
Though Innovative is losing funding through WIOA, the school is not closing its doors. The institute receives funding through other contracts as well as from students who are able to pay their own costs, Allen said.
Part of this additional funding comes from a partnership with the East Athens Development Corporation titled “Operation One Family at a Time.” Through the partnership, Innovative became a recipient of funds from the Community Development Block grant, but the program only serves individuals in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Zones 301 and 302.
“We have students from all over Athens and surrounding counties that need benefit as well,” Allen said.
Girtz said the Mayor and Commission are still in the planning phase for allocating local dollars to organizations like Innovative.
“What we have said is that we’ve put aside at least $150,000 for high demand workforce training,” Girtz said. “We have to determine how we are going to spend that money and we’re going to ask people to apply for that money.”
The Mayor and Commission will host a planning session on Sep. 19 to talk about how “poverty reduction and workforce development funds may be directed over the next year or so,” Girtz said.
In preparation for the opening of Innovative, Allen saved money and planned for the program for 10 years.
The Georgia Medical Care Foundation approved the program eight years ago, when Allen was building an “exit plan” from the workforce into entrepreneurship while still working full-time as a nurse executive.
During a transition from her previous job in 2015, Allen paid for two students to enter the institute and trained them. This marked the start of Allen’s full-time teaching with Innovative — both students completed the program.
The organization grew to 40, then 80 students in the following years before peaking at around 108 students in 2018. Innovative now has five instructors and has expanded from one certification program to four.
Innovative first became a WIOA recipient by having enough successful students for the application to be accepted by the federal government. One requirement was for at least five students to complete the program, become certified and get a job in the area they received certification, Allen said.
Before support from WIOA, Allen would pay for students who could not afford the program by paying for various needs like testing fees, books and uniforms.
A brighter future
Former student Sequoia Moss was able to achieve her goal of extending her healthcare certifications with Innovative.
In July 2019, Moss started the phlebotomy program and received her certification on Aug. 6. Moss was a certified nursing assistant at the time and recently received a job offer from St. Mary’s Health Care System doing phlebotomy work.
“I didn’t want to be a [certified nurse aide] for the rest of my life,” Moss said.
According to Allen, Moss was one of many students who benefited from WIOA.
Since being notified in July that Innovative would not receive funds for this fiscal year, Allen has paid for two students to go through the program. The WIOA funds were crucial to supporting students unable to afford the costs, Allen said.
“When we set up the business, or the school, I chose to make sure we could really help our community,” Allen said. “We are one of the few programs where you don’t have to have a high school diploma or GED [diploma]. You will still be able to get certified and [find] meaningful employment.”
Moss is currently enrolled in the patient care technician program. Moss also said she has “more time with Dr. Allen” left and plans to complete a third program in the future.
“We take care of the whole person,” Allen said. “We’re going to supply them with the tools, uniforms, whatever it is they need to be successful.”