“Oh, my gosh, it’s amazing,” Paige Smith of Brookfield said on June 22, after she received her diploma as one of the first 19 students to

Paige Smith

Paige Smith

graduate from the Hope Center for Arts and Technology’s medical assistant program.
“I went to Penn State Shenango and I didn’t make it through my program, so this is like a second chance for me,” Smith said. “It’s surreal.”
Smith had knee surgery just before finals at Penn State.
“It was so hectic,” she said. “I just didn’t have time to study like I should have.”
Smith did not squander that second chance at HopeCAT’s tuitionless program in Sharon. She used note cards to keep ideas fresh in her mind, and formed a study group with three other students.
Mara Reed of Masury came to HopeCAT from a different perspective.
“I was undecided on what I wanted to do,” said the 2018 graduate of Kennedy Catholic High School, Hermitage.
She decided to enter the medical field, following the footsteps of many family members.
“I live very close to the school, so I felt like it was a great opportunity to get started in the medical field,” Reed said.
Smith and Reed praised the atmosphere at HopeCAT, which also offers afterschool ceramics classes to high school students, and is looking to expand its youth and adult program offerings.
“I just felt welcomed from the beginning,” Reed said. “The courses, they were sometimes challenging, but got easier as it went on. The teachers here and everyone, the staff here, they’re for support, they’re accepting. If you need anything you can always come to them, no matter what it is. It’s a very great environment, always positive, upbeat.”
Although students do not have to pay tuition, Reed said it’s not free.
“It takes up a lot of your time,” she said. “Hard work and dedication. You have to be very dedicated to the program all times.”
“It’s very fast-paced,” Smith said of the 10-month program. “You have to put your all into it.”
While Smith is seeking work, Reed got a job through her externship at a doctor’s office in Hubbard.

Mara Reed, right, is shown receiving her diploma from Shawna Purnell, medical assistant program instructor. Steve Gurgovits is af left.

Mara Reed, right, is shown receiving her diploma from Shawna Purnell, medical assistant program instructor. Steve Gurgovits is at left.

“Some days it’s challenging,” Reed said. “There’s a lot there. I’m meeting a lot of new people, patients, just seeing the struggles that they go through with their health issues. Just being there for them and doing my best at my job every day to help those people. I love it, and I can’t wait to continue doing it.”
Both graduates said they look at being a medical assistant as a stepping stone to bigger and better things. Reed wants to become a physician’s assistant.
“Once I get a job and I start making money and I can pay for tuition, I want to go back into school for nursing,” Smith said.
HopeCat Executive Director Tom Roberts said officials are recruiting the next class. If enough students enroll, classes will start in September, he said.
Candidates must be 18, have a high school diploma or its equivalent and complete an application process that includes testing, a criminal background check and a drug screen.
Complete application information and curriculum is available at www.hopecat.org For more details, contact Roberts at 724-308-5135, Ext. 700.