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COA’s Laura Gardner Achieves Mental Health First Aid Certification

Elizabeth City, North Carolina — College of The Albemarle’s (COA) Laura Gardner, instructor/program coordinator for the college’s Human Services Technology (HST) program, recently took part in a national conference to become a certified Mental Health First Aid instructor. This certification allows Gardner to provide instruction for an 8-hour training course that will give students in the HST program an additional credential for their future employment.

It was a goal of Gardner’s to participate in the Mental Health First Aid training to help the Human Services Technology students expand upon their credentials as they prepare for the workforce. “I wanted to provide students with some additional resume building skills,” Gardner said. “Our students that graduate from HST don’t have a credential like this, and this training provided a great opportunity to fulfill that need.”

The Mental Health First Aid training was developed in 2001 by Betty Kitchener, a nurse from Australia who specialized in health education. The training is overseen by The National Council for Behavioral Health. Prior to the start of the three-day virtual conference, Gardner was assigned eight hours of pre-work to complete independently. Each participant from across the country led a 30-minute instructional piece where they were evaluated by the program’s trainers and then provided feedback from attendees. Gardner’s presentation topic was “Non-Suicidal Self Injuries,” where she explored what self-harm looks like, reasons why individuals self-harm, helpful/unhelpful responses and referral resources. “One of the main objectives of the training was for attendees to recognize that, as instructors, we don’t diagnose or solve the problem,” Gardner shared. “We learn how to look for signs and symptoms, how to initiate difficult conversations, assess the situation and help to refer those in need to an area health professional.”

Gardner will instruct the course first for COA’s HST students enrolled in the spring 2021 semester, then plans to reach out to the surrounding community over the summer to see who may be interested in the Mental Health First Aid training. She noted that the training extends beyond just the medical field; it would be valuable for school systems, public health and non-profit agencies. “This is just the beginning — ideally we want our students to be out in the community serving, but due to coronavirus we have not had the opportunity to do so.” COA was able to support this professional development opportunity for Gardner, and additional certification for students, through the use of Carl Perkins grant funding.

COA is working with Elizabeth City State University (ECSU) on an affiliation agreement that would allow graduates of COA’s HST program to transfer into ECSU’s Bachelor of Social Work program.