Deborah Sobers has a job. This isn't headline news, but for somebody who has struggled for awhile to find gainful employment, this is a pretty big deal.
Contributing to Sobers' success was her drive and initiative, aided by a local employment training program called The Gateway @ Buckman Road.
Developed by Community Preservation and Development Corporation (CPDC), the umbrella program is called the Community Preservation and Development Corporation's Computer Skills and Employment Training Programs, better known as C-SET. It's designed to provide employment training for those who need an extra edge in joining or re-joining the workforce.
Mary Cabriele is the local program manager at Buckman and explained that CPDC has about 22 housing projects that they manage and renovate. Recently, the company decided they wanted to do more, so they initiated employment training programs at some of the projects.
"We put a roof over their heads; we wanted to make them more self-sufficient, so we started focusing on community development," said Cabriele.
The one at Buckman Road is located on the ground floor of the Buckman Road Apartments. Most of the people who have attended the program so far don't even live in the apartments, but Cabriele said that they're working on that.
"Most of the residents work one or two jobs during the day, so we plan to offer an abbreviated course on nights and weekends," she said.
The current program is an intensive 12-week course, held every day for five hours. Attendance is critical, and only a few absences/tardies are allowed. It's not for everybody and applicants are carefully screened.
Students are referred by local agencies, such as New Hope Housing, Inc. Joseph Boddie, Director of Employment, Education, Training & Life Skills, has been instrumental in getting Sobers and others connected with the program.
"It's a pretty comprehensive program. Students get computer skills and employment training," said Boddie. It's focused on helping students get a job. We want to make sure that it's good fit. I talked to Deborah about it and she was interested — she wanted the opportunity to find something where she didn't have to return [to the shelter]. One reason why I like the program is that it's very nurturing. It's a lot different than other schools."
SOBERS GRADUATED a few months ago. Boddie attended the ceremony and shared his thoughts in an e-mail distributed last December.
"The guest speakers at the graduation included the Microsoft Mid-Atlantic General Manager, the Associate Administrator for the US Department of Commerce, the CEO of the Information Technology Association of America and the Ward 5 Council Member for DC. What made this auspicious occasion so joyous, however, were the graduates themselves. They included four former Mondloch House residents, three of whom are now residents in our transitional program, and three former Kennedy Shelter residents. One of our residents received the 'Presidents Award,' given to only three out of the 99 graduates for excellence in all areas of training including academics, technology, and professionalism.
"Another of our residents received an award for her expertise in Microsoft Office and Web Design. It was great to see all of these individuals," said Boddie.
"Not only am I proud of these residents but also the case managers and other staff who worked with them. You all made an environment possible for them to follow their dreams and go to school, and you did not allow them to be satisfied with mediocrity. You gave them the initial spark through your nurturing ...
"Lack of educational opportunities and poor education is a leading contributor to homelessness and many other ills of society, and it especially affects the disadvantaged poor, underprivileged, minority persons. There are few endeavors more important than to help open one's eyes to the opportunities available through education,"Boddie said.
AFTER SHE COMPLETED the program, Sobers found a job with Metrocall in the billing department. It's not her "forever" job, but it's enough to pay her rent and earn herself a paycheck.
"She's apparently doing very well at work," said Boddie.
"Joe was very helpful, I thank him for introducing me to the class," said Sobers, who got into the summer session "by the skin of my teeth. The class was full, but somebody dropped out, so I got the spot."
Sobers said that she recommends the program to people who are serious about it.
"You get a lot out of it. Everybody was there for you. It's so different from any other course I've had," she said.
Crystal Mercado, Misty Perry, Florence Florenz, Digyy Kourouma, Karin Young, Ebony Jackson, Henrietta Agyei and Alganesh Tekeste are realizing the value of the program as well. They are in the midst of their training program and spent one day last week practicing the skill of interviewing. Interviewing is as important as computer training — to some people it may come naturally, but for others it can be a show-stopper.
Instructor Bea Malone had taught them the skills they needed to be good interviewees. Now, it was time to put it to the test. On the hotseat was Henrietta Agyei, who was coming in to interview with law firm XYZ. Presiding as the company's employees were fellow students Crystal Mercado, Misty Perry and Florence Florenz. All took to their relative "positions" seriously, and reading from scripts, proceeded to welcome Agyei and ask her questions.
To the untrained eye, it looked like an actual interview. Agyei was genuine in her responses, and in her nervousness. Even though she was being interviewed by her peers, she still felt the pressure to do good. They asked questions about her career goals; why she wanted to work there; how the company would benefit from her as an employee; and how she handles stress on the job.
The three interviewers then gave her feedback, as did some of the other students who were listening in the back. They also commented on her lack of eye contact and her fidgeting in the chair.
After the interview, Agyei said, "It is wonderful to know what I need to brush up on. I'm a people person and have applied to law firms in the past."
Malone was formerly a Human Resources director, so she knows why employers ask certain questions; she also knows what mistakes are made. She teaches the students real-life skills so that they can go out and find a job. Even after students graduate from the program, the center works with them to get a job. Cabriele works hard to develop partnerships with local companies so that they can place students in these businesses.
"They need to practice so they know how they're coming across," said Malone. "This is an excellent program; not only are they getting computer skills, but other skills as well."
Currently a professor at the University of Maryland, Malone comes to Gateway once a week.
"I thought I could help," she said.
For more information about The Gateway @ Buckman Road, call 703-360-6094.