ORD, Neb. (AP) — Sylvester Juanes defied expectations in his life. Now, he's hoping to help others do the same through a program he created and a research project he's working on.

Juanes is the CEO of Valley View Senior Village in Ord.

He grew up in Venango, Nebraska, and dropped out of school when he was in eighth grade. His parents were migrant field workers and decided he was going to work out at the farms instead of going to school.

When Juanes was 26, he moved to Grand Island to get his general education degree at Central Community College. After he accomplished that, he applied to go to the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

He said he went to UNO about four or five times to meet with people about attending the school, since he had no SAT scores or anything. Juanes said after about the fifth visit, he met with an adviser, who welcomed him to attend UNO.

Juanes had an interest in neuroscience, which is what he studied. He added on gerontology because he thought it would fit into the neuroscience realm.

"I took an intro to gerontology course and felt that it would go hand-in-hand with what I was studying," Juanes said. "It's a major that I figured if you can understand the brain, then you can understand death."

In college, Juanes worked three jobs. He joked that he had jobs to equal the number of children he had.

"I didn't see them much when I was in college," Juanes said of his three kids, who are now 17, 15 and 12.

Juanes said he was always studying, in class or working, whether it be in the UNO or UNMC lab researching Alzheimer's disease or at Hy-Vee making pizzas.

"They were really supportive of it," Juanes said of his family. He said his wife was always supportive and helpful in taking care of the kids by herself when he wasn't able to be there.

After graduating from UNO in 2015, Juanes was recruited to be the CEO of a Hebron company that offered skilled nursing and assisted living.

"That is where I started to realize there was a big shortage of workers," Juanes said.

As someone who has a passion for those who need care, Juanes wanted to help solve the shortage.

"My primary focus has always been the quality of life and the quality of care of the individuals that I serve," Juanes said.

He designed a program with help from his past experience working for the Nebraska Association of Farm Workers with the Department of Labor, The Grand Island Independent reported. He said with knowing how the Department of Labor monies worked, he helped create partnerships with nonprofits and those who may fit the parameters of what that money could be used for. His program allows someone who is unemployed, not in school or who wants a better job to climb the career ladder.

People who qualify for the program take a certified nursing assistant class, which is funded by the Department of Labor.

Juanes said for example, a housekeeper could enroll in the program and take the class. After six months he or she could earn a promotion and work their way up to be a licensed practical nurse.

"That works well for us because it fills a need," Juanes said. "There aren't enough nurses right now."

Juanes said this helps the worker shortage in his field, helps people stay in the area and helps people earn better wages and education. The program is currently available in Hebron and Ord. After gathering more data research on the program, he hopes to expand it.

Another project Juanes is working on is gathering data with UNO on the Lakota people in Chadron. The project began in the beginning of February. Juanes said they found that the life expectancy for a Lakota male in Chadron is 47 years old. He said that was astonishing to him, and a big problem. Suicide and drug and alcohol addiction is also very high in Lakota youth, he said.

"That's here in Nebraska," Juanes said. "The mortality rate is crazy."

Research so far has shown the Lakota people to have a lot of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. The project will offer people in Chadron initial health screenings during a monthly community event.

Juanes has defied expectations and come a long way from dropping out of school in eighth grade to join the workforce. He recently applied to Penn State and was accepted. It was the only school he applied to. Juanes will start this fall to earn his master's degree in healthcare administration and policy.

Juanes said the best part of his job is the residents. He said if employees spend the whole day in their office, then they're doing it wrong.

"There's nothing better than to serve those who are underserved," Juanes said. "I really enjoy the residents."

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Information from: The Grand Island Independent, http://www.theindependent.com