I had the privilege recently of attending a graduation at Action for Boston Community Development, an anti-poverty agency. The 14 graduates had completed a training course in Elder Care, one of four certification programs within the agency’s New Careers initiative, which is wholly funded by stimulus grants.
It was gratifying -- and really exciting -- for me to see this cross section of people bursting with pride at all they had accomplished in this course, wearing their graduation caps and gowns as regally as I’ve ever seen. These were people – they were women and men, they were young and old – who knew what it was to struggle and, yet, despite their challenges, they took this course, eager to learn how to help seniors and hopeful the program would lead to steady employment.
One of the graduates, Michelle Marshall, a single mother, told me she always wanted to work with seniors and she needed a job. “This program is a perfect match for me,” she told me. “I really appreciate it and it changed me into the person I want to be.” In a great coincidence and thanks to the course, Michelle told me she got a job at the Goddard House, an assisted living center, just the day before.
Toni Raye, another graduate, told me that the program was also a transformative experience for her. She had been laid off from the state lab and was down to the last of her savings when she heard about the course. “It was a great opportunity,” she told me. “Even though we’re at a position in our lives we’re we think we can’t accomplish anything because of our age or our status, if we put our best foot forward, we can.”
I kept hearing that again and again-- how the course gave each of these graduates a chance to start again, just when they seemed to be out of opportunities.
What I really like about the New Careers program is that it is also putting these graduates on the path to a college degree. The program partners with Urban College, which means the course graduates can continue taking courses there to finish their Associates Degree in Human Services. Almost all the graduates I spoke to planned to continue taking college courses.
Melissa Shedd, a single mother of two children, told me she plans on taking two night classes despite the fact that she will be working at Rogerson Communities, an elder services center, during the day. Her motivation is her kids she told me. “I’m building a better future for my children. Now I feel like I have hope. My kids will thank [the stimulus program] in the future,” she told me.
I think they will. As I told the graduates in my speech to them, the stimulus program is about
transitions. We are providing the means to make these opportunities possible. But these graduates are doing the hard work. And their families pitch in with tremendous support.
One of the graduates, Michelle Browne, said something to me that stuck: “Just because we live below the poverty line doesn’t mean we don’t want to achieve and accomplish or that we’re taking the system for granted. We are changing the face of what low income looks like.”
Indeed they are.