Carla Winder is among the more than 300 adult learners who are transitioning from student to graduate during commencement ceremonies Saturday, Oct. 15, at the Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota Twin Cities Campus. For Winder, earning a bachelor’s degree is about more than earning a diploma, it’s an opportunity to turn a longtime passion into a new profession.

Winder desires to work with young mothers in the field of childhood development, which stems from the support she received, particularly from women, when she experienced an unexpected pregnancy. For the past 23 years, she owned and operated her own daycare but felt a calling and a desire to give back and become someone else’s support beam.

“I’m at a point in my life where I can switch careers and help families who are struggling like I have,” Winder said. Earning a B.S. in Healthcare and Human Services Management from Saint Mary’s will help her do so. In fact, while doing a school assignment, Winder made a connection that led to her new job.

For a class assignment, Winder interviewed Dakota Healthy Families Supervisor Jennifer Krekelberg of 360 Communities. By the end of that interview, Krekelberg encouraged Winder to apply for an open position, taking Winder one step further along the path of transforming her career.

“I wasn’t sure if I should apply because I was so busy with school and my capstone, but I realized that this was exactly what I wanted to do and I couldn’t pass the opportunity up,” Winder said. “I closed down my daycare business and I now serve as an early childhood home visitor for 360 Communities.” The organization, Winder explained, provides hope and support to people by engaging communities to prevent violence, ensure school success, and promote long-term self-sufficiency.

In her new role, Winder makes weekly visits to the homes of moms who are pregnant for the first time or have newborns. She helps mothers build an attachment with their babies and provides support and resources for anything that may prevent that attachment, such as alcohol use/abuse, domestic violence, or illness. Winder said forming a bond of trust between herself and these mothers is essential.

“My own past and years of daycare experience make forming that bond possible, and I find myself using skills I learned in class every day—everything from psychology to the history of social services,” Winder said. “The class about culture was particularly helpful because I have to understand and work with several different cultures.”

The 360 Communities’ program, which is free for participating families, is most intensive during the first year of the child’s life with weekly visits. Then it wanes during the next few years until the mother is self-sufficient. The program is part of the federally funded Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program, which reached families in 26 percent of all United States counties in 2015, according to the Health Resources & Services Administration.

Winder is elated with her new career and said completing her bachelor’s degree opened the door.

“I have a ton of life experience, but there was still so much that I didn’t know,” Winder said. “I have a great opportunity to grow and learn in this career—it couldn’t have happened without my degree.”

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