Faces of Long Island celebrates the uniqueness of everyday Long Islanders. In their own words, they tell us about their life experiences, challenges and triumphs. Newsday launched this social media journey into the human experience to shine a light on the diverse people of this wonderful place we call home.

‘Working as a companion caregiver was a very rewarding job and became my passion.’

Nicole Laborde, Coram

“I immigrated to America from Haiti when I was 15 years old. I arrived at the airport with a lot of hopes, visions and uncertainty of not knowing what life would bring. I didn’t have any family with me. I lived in a small apartment in Brooklyn and enrolled in high school in Prospect Heights. I had to figure out life and take care of myself. At times, I felt discouraged because it was a difficult time. As I was going to high school, I also had to go to night school to learn the language better and help me understand the classes that I was enrolled in. I had to work long hours to support myself. At around 16 or 17 years old, while still in high school, I started working part time as a caregiver. I always found the health care industry interesting.

“Working as a companion caregiver was a very rewarding job and became my passion. Some of the people I helped treated me like I was their family. I was making a difference in their lives. After I graduated from high school, I decided to pursue my career in health care. I enrolled in a practical nursing program, and then I continued to work several jobs while studying to become a registered nurse. From there, I became the CEO of a vocational school – Ideal School of Allied Health Care.

“While working as a registered nurse, I realized how short-staffed we were. There was a huge need for nurses. I decided to start a school that would train people to become health care providers. I wanted to help solve the shortage problem and aid people to be better trained to provide services not only in the hospital setting, but also in the nursing home setting, since that’s where I started. I researched and put in an immense amount of work and became licensed in July of 2013 to start a school and teach students.

“Our first class was in September of 2013. We had five home health aides and about five nursing assistants in a class. We started small, but we’ve now graduated well over 4,000 people in all areas from home health aide to medical assistant. From time to time, I will teach a class as well.”

At a very young age, I did imagine myself here. I didn’t know how I would carry out my visions and dreams, but I did.

“There is a lot of abuse, and lack of proper training and education, in the health care field. It’s important to teach our students more than just the medical side of health care. We teach them to be understanding towards patients and family members. I want each student to treat their patients with the same level of compassion, respect and dignity as they would a loved one. The lack of education isn’t just on health care professionals, but also family members looking for services for loved ones. Unfortunately, some family members may not do a thorough background check and they end up hiring someone who isn’t properly trained or certified.

“My long-term goal is to see students, especially immigrants like myself, come and get their education and then go out there to provide beneficial health care services to their communities. About 90-95 percent of our students are immigrants. Some of them are from Haiti, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic. I have people that are 30 to 40 to even 50 years old. They come to our school and want to do something meaningful.

“I’m really pushing for more students to become health care providers. We’re still in such a shortage. I have more people in need of care than I have workers and students. As people are aging and as we get better medicine, people are living longer. They tend to want to stay at home and not be in a nursing home or an assisted living facility anymore. They want to stay where they’re comfortable. This is why the need for having more home health care aides is so important.

“Becoming a caregiver is very meaningful. Unfortunately, they don’t get paid enough for what they do. I hope sometime in the near future that people can understand and appreciate this type of work. Hopefully, there will be a better understanding of the job and an emphasis on the importance of it, as well as providers receiving higher pay.

“I always imagined being here in the U.S. It’s a lot of immigrants’ dreams. At a very young age, I did imagine myself here. I didn’t know how I would carry out my visions and dreams, but I did. It was not easy doing it all on my own, but it made me really appreciate life.”

Interviewed by Shoshanna McCollum