First of 13: Chinah Clemons-Fountain

Published 5:16 pm Friday, November 11, 2016

There is a lot of pressure on Chinah Clemons-Fountain.

When she graduates from the associate degree in nursing program at Beaufort County Community College, she will be the first of her 12 siblings to do so. Not only is the 19-year-old in a tough program, she plans to enter a tough field. Clemons-Fountain plans to work as a hospice nurse.

She is off to a great start so far. She finished Bertie High School in only three years.

She scrapped plans to move to Greenville to attend Pitt Community College and left behind Merry Hill in favor of moving back home and attending BCCC, which offered better graduation rates. This move also allowed her to be closer to her mother, who lives in Plymouth. Now the dedicated student drives an hour and 15 minutes every day to class.

Clemons-Fountain is not deterred. “If you want something bad enough, you’re going to go get it,” she said.

As the youngest sibling, she also gets a lot of support from her family. Her father never finished high school. “He pushes me,” she said.

She also gets an encouraging text every morning from her oldest brother Dominique, who lives in Connecticut.

That support has been key to Clemons-Fountain’s success. “It’s important to have somebody in your corner to push you through,” she said.

She also participates in the TRIO program, which helps support students in her situation. TRIO offers tutoring, laptops and cultural opportunities to students who are the first in their families to attend college and experiencing poverty. The TRIO program at BCCC recently received a grant for $339,000 to continue providing support services to students like Clemons-Fountain.

Her hard work has not gone unrecognized. She is a BCCC ambassador, a title awarded to the best of representatives of the college. BCCC ambassadors have their tuition reimbursed through the BCCC Foundation in exchange for helping out with community events and speaking at college functions.

Many of the people in her high school did not have the same foresight as she does. “A lot of people just wanted to make quick money. They didn’t want to go to college,” she said. “I wanted to make money doing something I love.”

Clemons-Fountain hates being at a standstill, so she is well suited for the nursing program. Her family had previously lived in Florida, where she was always shuffling between chorus, ballet and the library.

When she first got to Bertie County, everything felt a lot slower. There was not as much to do. Her family had moved there to take care of her great-grandmother. They would drive to Connecticut every weekend to spend time with her father’s side of the family and give the kids a little more entertainment than Bertie County had to offer.

The nursing program involves long hours and stressful days in the simulation labs, perfect for a student like Clemons-Fountain. The labs are equipped with programmable robots that can breathe, cry, bleed and even die like a real patient. While at first glance it looks like a mannequin, once it starts blinking at regular intervals and its chest rises and falls under the drape, the students start to take it seriously.

The simulations are so real that instructors regularly deal with students’ grief at the loss of a “patient.” While dealing with a simulated death can be stressful for students, the real thing can be more difficult, especially when the process is slower and there is a family involved.

For Clemons-Fountain, this is the reason for becoming a hospice nurse. Her introduction to the field was through her grandfather’s hospice nurse. Her grandfather received end-of-life care as his health failed due to liver and kidney failure and prostate cancer. The attention the family received through the process inspired Clemons-Fountain.

“The way she cared for him inspired me,” she said. “It’s about the time you spend with them here.”

Clemons-Fountain is unfazed by death. She saw her grandfather on the couch after he had died.

She plans to continue on to a bachelor’s degree and to work as traveling nurse. As the populations of places like Bertie County continue to grow older, her services will be in increasing demand. The cutting-edge education she receives at BCCC, combined with support she receives from her family and the TRIO program, a strong dose of empathy and compassion, will propel Clemons-Fountain forward, and earning the title of first of 13 to get her college degree.