Often the challenges we face and are able to overcome provide the motivation for assisting others who are striving to make a difference in their lives and for their families. That is certainly the case with Teri Jones, the founder and executive director of METCA, the Macedonia Education Technology and Career Academy program of the Elderly Compassionate Care Program of Brevard County.

METCA is an initiative that Jones developed with the Rev. Nathaniel Harris and Jerry Phillips, the financial officer of Macedonia Baptist Church. The program provides a career path to financially disadvantaged members of the community with education opportunities, scholarship funding, preparatory courses, mentoring and support resources in the career fields of Home Health Aid (HHA), Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), Licensed Practical Nursing (LPN), LPN transition to Registered Nurse (RN) and Associate Degree Nursing (ADN) programs.

This helps address to critical needs for both the healthcare sector and the student: First, demand is high, and the supply of trained medical workers remains low, now and in the foreseeable future. Second, entry level positions are accessible after a relatively short training program – and once that employment gate is breached, more career possibilities unfold.

To Get Through, You Have to Go Through

Photography by Jason Hook

The journey to founding METCA started when Jones graduated from high school in northern California at 16, with a grade point average that attracted scholarship opportunities from top-tier schools. Today she is working on earning a PhD, but back then, rather than helping to facilitate that opportunity, her mother pointed to the impracticality of attending college. So, Jones felt her best option was to enlist in the Army.

“After a while,” she recalled, “I realized I was doing the work of an officer and I was certainly as capable and intelligent as the officers I served. So, I thought, why don’t I become one?”

Officer’s Candidate School could probably be described as one of the most grueling 12 weeks one could conceive, especially if you were a woman at a time when women in the program were rare. Of the 250 individuals who started in her OCS class, only 100 finished. Even Jones, who was both a dancer and body builder, found the program physically and mentally exhausting. Nevertheless, she persisted and graduated as the sole African American female in her class.

“I was always very competitive and gravitated towards challenges,” she said. “The Army teaches you to be mission-focused, even in the worst of times, and to be that role model that others are looking to. If you’re strong, they will make you stronger, but if you are not, that will surface as well. Those lessons I have never forgotten.”

After a career in the Army, Jones held positions at Career Source Brevard and Brevard Community College, now Eastern Florida State College. In 2014, she heard Space Coast EDC Director Lynda Weatherman speak about careers in manufacturing and was captivated. Just a few months later, Rev. Harris approached her about the unemployment challenges young people in the neighborhoods near Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church were facing.

“A lightbulb came on in my mind: What if what Lynda Weatherman was trying to do (to provide a skilled manufacturing workforce) and what Pastor Harris wanted to do (to help people not just get a job, but a career) could be combined?

“Lynda Weatherman said, ‘I have the money for training, but not the people. Pastor Harris said, ‘I have the people, not the money.’ My goal was to bring these together.”

That partnership led to the first CPT classes in the summer of 2015 at Macedonia. Later, Jones pivoted the focus of METCA towards healthcare and built alliances with community organizations like the Space Coast Health Foundation, Health First Foundation, Career Source Brevard and Goodwill, along with educational institutions like Keiser University, Brevard Public Schools and Eastern Florida State College.

The challenges remain daunting, but Teri Jones, “likes a challenge,” and the transformative impact she is having on the lives of the people in our community are worth celebrating. By facilitating access to education and careers that lead to financial freedom and personal empowerment, Jones is lifting others up and changing the paradigm from what was not before possible to what is now within reach.