Recently Southern Maine Community Center received a $50,000 donation to provide scholarships to CNAs who are SMCC students. From left are: SMCC Student Emma Morris, SMCC Student Erin Huebner, SMCC Student Chelsea Mancini, Caron Chess, and SMCC Student Kari Colburn. Courtesy photo

SOUTH PORTLAND — Philanthropist Caron Chess made a significant donation to Southern Maine Community College (SMCC) to bolster the educational opportunities for Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) pursuing higher education in the Health Science pathway.

The $50,000 contribution aims to provide scholarships to current CNAs who are SMCC students and are seeking to advance their careers through education.

Caron Chess’ gift to SMCC is the commitment to honoring her late husband’s legacy, Dan Wartenberg. Dan was a revered epidemiologist, teacher, researcher, and community advocate who passed from Alzheimer’s disease on Aug. 21, 2020. Chess is focused on emphasizing the importance of fostering educational pathways for CNAs, especially those within Maine’s New Mainer population, who aspire to enhance their lives through continued education in
health care.

“After Dan’s diagnosis, he spoke often to teach people they could lead meaningful lives with Alzheimer’s. As his disease progressed, I was fortunate to witness the remarkable work done by CNAs to do just that, continue to help make Dan’s life meaningful,” Chess said. “During his care in the memory unit, CNAs were his primary caregivers. Their unwavering compassion and tireless commitment while helping to enhance my husband’s life was truly inspiring. Dan was a champion of uplifting community in many ways, so I can’t imagine a better way to honor his legacy than by championing CNA students and their path to education. Their devotion deserves recognition and support, and I’m honored to play a role in helping students achieve their life
goals within a career so vital to our community’s well-being.”

The scholarship initiative seeks to address the critical need for trained healthcare professionals in Maine and highlights the pivotal role CNAs play in patient care. By facilitating access to higher education, this donation aims to equip CNAs with the necessary tools and knowledge to continue along the Health Science pathway, thereby strengthening the healthcare workforce in the region.

“We are so thankful for Caron Chess and her thoughtful act of kindness to support SMCC students,” SMCC Nursing Program Chair Jessica Dreves said. “CNAs are the backbone of the nursing profession, and this gift will support students who are already giving so much to the health care community and aid them in building a sustainable future in the workforce. As a former CNA, I am thrilled that the SMCC Foundation will be able to offer this additional support to this student population.”


“This gift aligns perfectly with SMCC’s commitment to providing accessible education and supporting our community’s health care needs,” Julie Chase, Dean of the SMCC Foundation, said. “We are honored to be entrusted with these funds and look forward to empowering aspiring CNAs in their educational pursuits.”

The donation will create scholarships for CNAs enrolled in Health Science pathway programs at SMCC, enabling them to achieve their academic and professional goals.

“My journey from CNA to pursuing my RN was once a distant dream,” SMCC student Erin Huebner said. “Working in memory care as a CNA provided invaluable experience that I’ll bring into every role throughout my nursing career, helping me to achieve my dream. The support Ms. Chess provides to SMCC students pursuing further education is invaluable and will lead to the fulfillment of other dreams. I’m thankful for the incredible generosity while acknowledging and supporting a profession often unseen and underappreciated.”

To learn more about SMCC’s Health Sciences pathway, visit

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