It 'gave me a purpose' - Albuquerque Journal

It ‘gave me a purpose’

Albuquerque EMS Corps student Reed Pike, left, is trained on September 7 to take a patient’s blood pressure by UNM EMS Academy Lecturer Rob Buchanan. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Drugs, theft and “hanging around with the wrong crowd” allowed Reed Pike to get intimately familiar with the state’s juvenile justice system and the Children, Youth and Families Department.

From age 13 to 17 he spent time in various secure and community-based treatment, detention and reintegration centers, including the Youth Diagnostic and Detention Center.

“Once I was on probation, I just had a very hard time getting off,” he said. “I’d start with a six-month probation and then go on the run and it would get turned into a one year probation and then two years. I went to drug court and kept messing up, so they just kept restarting my probation. I got to the point where I felt like it was never going to end and I just felt trapped.”

Pike, 24, eventually escaped the trap and was able to hold down a series of retail and other jobs. He is now studying emergency medical services and is enrolled in the EMS Corps. The program was started by CYFD in June 2021 and targets underserved and underrepresented young people in New Mexico, including those from rural and tribal areas, as well as those who age-out of CYFD’s foster system or who exit the juvenile detention system.

One of the jobs Pike previously held was at a facility for autistic children and kids with behavioral problems.

 

Albuquerque EMS Corps student Reed Pike, right, is trained September 7, 2022, on the proper way to load a gurney onto an ambulance by UNM EMS Academy Lecturer Rob Buchanan. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

“Some of them had such maladaptive behaviors that if they weren’t corrected, then by the time they got older they’d be unbearable for anyone to take care of besides a facility,” Pike said. “In the sense that they were in a place they really didn’t want to be because of their behaviors, they were kind of like how I had been.”

What Pike got out of that work experience “was a desire to help increase the value of other people’s lives.”

Learning to be an emergency medical technician, or EMT, helps fulfill that goal, he said.

The EMS Corps is taught through the EMS Academy at the University of New Mexico. Now working with its third cohort, classes consist of 12 to 19 students between the ages of 18 and 26. About half of all the students had previously been involved with CYFD, said Lindsay Eakes, director of the EMS Academy. Many others had no CYFD involvement but come from an environment where they had little opportunity or guidance.

Thus far, about 90% of the students who completed the course have passed their EMT Basic national registry test, received a license from the state and have obtained employment in clinics, ambulances and related services.

But even those who later decide not to become EMTs benefit from the program. “They have a CPR card, they know how to put a tourniquet on somebody who’s been in an accident – they’ve developed a lot of life skills,” Eakes said. “It’s truly transformational. There are not very many programs where you see somebody’s life completely changed and their outlook and their perspective completely shifted.”

According to Terrance McCarty, EMS Corps interim program director, students in the program receive 380 hours of training over five months. They also receive a wide range of mental health services, including one-on-one and group therapy, are assigned a mentor and earn a $1,000 monthly stipend to help with living expenses. The program, which costs about $800,000 a year, is funded by CYFD and a Kellogg Foundation grant, McCarty said.

“We understand some of the challenges for young people going into this field, so we try to provide mental health services to help prepare them,” he said.

EMS Academy instructor Rob Buchanan, right, offers EMS Corps student Reed Pike pointers on how to best negotiate a gurney with a ‘patient’ into an ambulance on September 7, 2022. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

McCarty noted that 33% of the students in the program are Native Americans, most of whom were raised on tribal lands. Many of them, he said, “expressed a desire to go back and do service in the communities where they came from, and where there is a shortage of EMTs.”

A number of the students who complete the program are likely to go on to earn higher EMT or paramedic certifications, or branch off into careers as nurses or firefighters, he added.

Pike, who learned about the EMT program from McCarty, whom he met years ago when he was involved with CYFD, said he plans to use his EMT Basic certification as a stepping stone to a career as a firefighter.

Dante Cheama, 21, is already on his way. He completed the program, is now working as an EMT on the Zuni Pueblo, where he was raised, and plans to parlay that job into a career as a paramedic and firefighter. He learned about the EMT program from a pueblo social media posting.

“I didn’t have any other career choices or opportunities,” he said. “I had been working as a dishwasher in Gallup and I had some other jobs, but then this just presented itself. I’m actually blessed and lucky it did.”

For Pike, it’s not just about a career. The EMT program “gave me a purpose, it gave me something to do that’s in line with my ultimate values of helping people,” he said. “It sets me up to have a better life, and it gives me stability and a reason to do good.”

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