HARTFORD, Conn. — Daisia Kai Walker, a 21-year-old college student who hasn’t had a steady place to sleep for months, tries to take life one day at a time.
Sometimes, it all moves too fast for the aspiring criminal justice major “trying to figure out everything.” But Walker knows where she’ll be on Sept. 17 — reporting for her new job at Hartford Hospital as a patient care assistant, while juggling the demands of a full course load at Capital Community College.
“I’m very thankful and grateful,” Walker, who’s training to be a certified nurse aide, said. “I want to stay with them for a long time. That’s how I really see it going forward.”
Barry Kriesberg, the vice president of operations at Hartford Hospital, was shocked when he read about how Walker would often go hungry, part of a report on college homelessness in The Courant last month. And, he couldn’t stop staring at a photo of Walker, clad in scrubs, sitting on a bench in Bushnell Park, where she’d been forced to spend the night more than once.
She had been a star athlete at East Windsor High School. She was named an all-state athlete in the long jump. But then, she left home after a falling out with her family.
“I said to my wife, ‘This is terrible,’“ Kriesberg said. “I’m looking at a nurse, and there’s homelessness. This isn’t right. We felt there was something we could actually do.”
So Kriesberg emailed his staff last Friday morning, searching for ideas. At first, he thought the solution was providing food vouchers.
By 1 p.m. that same day, Vicie Brooks, a nurse and community outreach coordinator, managed to reach Walker by phone. She invited Walker to come to the hospital for a job shadow opportunity and interview.
“She was just so elated and squealed, ‘No way,’“ Brooks said.
When Walker strode into Kriesberg’s office, she “sparkled.” She was genuine and articulate, Kriesberg said.
“She had poise. She just seemed put together,” Kriesberg said. “She was a good person with good intentions.”
To Heather Quinn, an administrative associate, Walker seemed “unstoppable,” even when she met with the hospital’s president, Bimal Patel.
“There was just something about her,” Quinn said. “She was confident, driven and lovely.”
For about four hours, Walker observed patient care assistants at work. The trial run proved Walker could see herself as a caregiver — and that she fit in at Hartford Hospital.
If she was already certified, Walker could have started the very next day, Kriesberg joked. But come September, Kriesberg said he will be Walker’s “fairy godfather.”
For now, he’s bought her $60 worth of bus fare tickets and meals. Other staff members pitched in to get Walker new uniforms and sneakers.
The job, which typically entails a 40-hour week, comes with flexible hours and benefits. Walker said it will help her afford an apartment of her own, maybe where she’ll study for law school in a few years.
“This is a home run for her,” Kriesberg said. “It makes me feel like a million bucks. I changed the world by one person – this person is going to be better off.”