Thanks to SkillUP, these Kansas Citians are acquiring job skills at MCC for free

Katrinia Maldonado

Minutes before entering a classroom at Metropolitan Community College’s Health Science Institute, Katrinia Maldonado admitted to being both excited and anxious.

“This is my first time ever being able to attend college,” said Maldonado, who woke up this day “with tears in my eyes” because she’s finally following her dreams.

With her new pink-and-white polka-dotted backpack, Maldonado, 42, looked the part of a student. Her new scrubs, a vivid pink top and blue pants, signaled the nature of the program she’s enrolled in. About three months from now, if all goes well, Maldonado should be a certified nurse assistant.

What made this opportunity possible is a program called SkillUP, which offers free job training to Missourians receiving federal food assistance (food stamps). MCC and Ozarks Technical Community College in Springfield are the only two colleges involved in the test program for now, but the hope is that it will expand.

Although SNAP — the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — is most associated with food assistance, it has two other components: nutrition education and an employment and training program, which in Missouri is known as SkillUP.

Maldonado found out about SkillUP at a resource fair at Richardson Elementary, where her 4-year-old attends preschool. She worked for more than 10 years in home health care but these days is doing part-time janitorial work.

Once she becomes a CNA, however, she expects to make more money and be able to “get my son the things he needs.”

MCC’s 12-week certified nurse assistant program is an intensive mix of classroom and lab time along with out-of-class clinical experiences. Maldonado’s class will finish up in mid-October, when students take their final assessment.

She’s hoping to work at Children’s Mercy Hospital. A friend started there as a CNA and has since become a registered nurse.

Kimneshia Burgin

Another CNA student taking advantage of SkillUP is Kimneshia Burgin. She and Maldonado know each other from their children’s preschool.

This will be Burgin’s second time at MCC. She took classes at MCC-Penn Valley (which includes the Health Science Institute) a few years ago. She was interested in nursing, but having a baby interrupted her education.

Burgin, 27, works for Alliance Personal Care and says her boss has been encouraging of this SkillUP opportunity, telling her the CNA credential will take her far in the field of home care.

Once she becomes a CNA, Burgin says, she should get more clients and more hours at work.

“This is something that I really wanted to do,” she says. “It will make me proud of my own self, and my kids can see their mother doing something.”

Although both women just started their CNA training, they’re already enthusiastic proponents of the program that made it possible, SkillUP. Burgin told her brother about it. Maldonado gave a flyer to someone on the bus the other day.

Shykela Hobson

Meanwhile, Shykela Hobson is getting ready to enter the 15-week phlebotomy program at MCC’s Health Science Institute. Her youngest child, a 7-month-old, was born with disabilities and frequently has to have blood drawn.

Hobson, 22, found about SkillUP through a friend’s Facebook post. Like Burgin, she had previously attended MCC-Penn Valley. Although the emergency medical services (EMS) program didn’t work out for her, she says she still loves the medical field; she has experience working as a pharmacy technician. A friend of hers who’s a phlebotomist enjoys the work and says it pays well.

With four kids, Hobson has had “no time to go to school,” and she couldn’t afford it anyway. “Financial aid has been such a hassle for me,” she adds.

That’s why she thinks SkillUp is “amazing.” The program pays the tuition for short-term job training, but other student needs — such as books and equipment, even child care — can be covered as well.

“You can’t beat that,” Hobson says. “Everybody likes free.”

If you’re a SNAP (food stamps) recipient in Missouri or know someone who is and would like to learn more about SkillUP, call the MCC Information Center at 816.604.1000. Important: You must be signed up by Sept. 30, 2017.

Also worth noting: Although the three students featured here have enrolled in health care programs, many other MCC career programs are covered by SkillUP, such as graphic design, early childcare education and development, paralegal studies, criminal justice, computer science, HVAC, welding, lineman training and engineering technology. Learn more about these programs and others at

MCC is partnering on SkillUP with the Missouri Community College Association, MU Extension and the Missouri Department of Social Services Family Support Division.

This project/program is funded 90.5% at $482,110 by federal funds and 9.5% at $50,380 by nongovernmental sources for a total amount of $532,490. The federal funds are received from the U.S. Department of Agriculture provided by Missouri Department of Social Services, Family Support Division.

Related: MCC partners with MU Extension, MCCA and DSS to help low-income Missourians ‘SkillUP’

Here’s a story about SkillUP that aired on KSHB-41’s “The Now KC”: