More than a Paycheck: Amanda’s Work Story

A mother of four, Amanda Zernell worked odd jobs – as a certified nurse assistant at minimum wage and later at Sears – to help support her family. But after her youngest went to school, Amanda wanted a new challenge. “I needed something more and everything I was interested in required more education, but I was scared to take out a loan,” she explains.

Then she found Brockway Center for Arts and Technology (BCAT). BCAT offers a no-tuition nine-month medical assistant program. That’s a stark contrast to the nearby Dubois Business College that, at the time, charged $25,000 in tuition

It wasn’t easy. Amanda says, “I wasn’t a very good high school student, and I didn’t know how to take a test or how to study and understand new information.” Amanda notes her kids helped her a lot when she was studying. But once she started to trust herself, things clicked and she’s never looked back.

Pictured above left to right: Bill Strickland, founder Manchester-Bidwell; Amanda Zernell; and Peter Varischetti, Brockway businessman.

Now, Amanda has been a medical assistant primarily at Penn Highlands Ophthalmology in Clearfield for four years.

I can’t believe I work here and I’m part of this system. I love my job every day. I feel that I am making a difference and helping people.

Amanda’s tasks vary from providing comfort to nervous patients to running diagnostic tests. But her favorite part is working with patients the day after cataract surgery when they often exclaim, “Wow, I can really see things again!”

Thanks to her newfound career, Amanda and her husband are debt-free. “It’s really something to be driving your car and saying I don’t owe, I own this. The bank doesn’t own it. I own it.” Amanda’s work is also keeping the family financially stable since her husband has been ill and underwent surgery in February.

Their financial situation is even more of a joy to Amanda because of past experience: The last time her husband was laid off they needed assistance from SNAP—food stamps—and Medical Assistance. While Amanda is very thankful for those programs, she did experience the far-too-common shortcomings of Medical Assistance. Her daughter needed to see a specialist in Pittsburgh; after driving two hours to the office they were still unsure if they could be seen because her local doctor’s office didn’t send a referral. Now Amanda has a great health care plan through her employer that doesn’t require referrals.


Not a whole lot of women or moms think ‘what about me, I’m important too,’ but you need to think about yourself. If you aren’t happy, your family isn’t happy.


Amanda is in favor of work requirements for government assistance programs, saying, “I think it’s a good idea, in all honesty, because it helps us build a better community.” But Amanda is also concerned about the cost of childcare.

I do think that people need better access to good childcare. [That is] one thing that we do need if we are trying to get people to go back to work. . . make sure that their kids are taken care of too. Or else how are we really fixing the whole cycle?

That’s why HB 1659, which restores work requirements in SNAP, exempts moms and dads with kids under 18 years of age. HB 2138, the bill to establish Medical Assistance (Medicaid) work requirements exempts parents with kids under the age of seven.

When it comes helping women get back to work or train for a new career Amanda says,

Not a whole lot of women or moms think ‘what about me, I’m important too,’ but you need to think about yourself. If you aren’t happy, your family isn’t happy. And you will be happy once you are done.

For five years BCAT has been helping women and men find fulfilling careers that do far more than offer a steady paycheck; they instill confidence and, for Amanda, happiness.