Friday, July 28, 2000

Low-income grads cross job bridge

Free program helps close skills gap

By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When 13 students graduate today from a computer training program for low- income Cincinnati residents, at least one will be dreaming of college.

        Damon Holloway, 24, of the West End will graduate from the Bridges Program, a free, state-of-the-art training project. The ceremony will be at the Hamilton County Salvation Army.

        The program is sponsored by Mercy Franciscan at St. John, a Cincinnati-based so cial service agency.

        When Mr. Holloway walks across the stage, he said, he'll remember what he went through to get there. He left his mother's house at 17 and worked all kinds of jobs: sales clerk, customer service representative and janitor.

        “I never really thought about college because my mother made me get out into the world at a very young age,” he said.

        That was until his grandfather encouraged him to join the program, which provides training in Windows '97, Excel, Access and PowerPoint, and gives participants a free computer upon graduation.

        With his grandfather's help, Mr. Holloway quit his job at a shoe store and concentrated on his course work. But two weeks into the program his grandfather died. Mr. Holloway thought he might not be able to finish because he had no financial support.

        Through the program's

        emergency aid, Mr. Holloway got the resources he needed to pay rent and buy food so he could finish.

        Mr. Holloway is one of eight students in this graduating class from the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority who are receiving services funded through CMHA's Hope VI project. Hope VI is a four-year grant to redevelop distressed neighborhoods into mixed-income communities and assist the families in attaining self-sufficiency.

        The program's students are learning skills crucial in a changing workplace. More than two-thirds of jobs created in the last 20 years required skills beyond a high-school diploma, said Ron Bird, chief economist for the Employment Policy Foundation in Washington, D.C.

        “Just having the basics is extremely important, and anything beyond that is significant,” he said. “People without these skills will be at a distinct disadvantage.”

        Mr. Holloway said the program has inspired him to get a degree in computer programming. He knows he'll be a marketable job candidate.

        “I didn't want to work as a Foot Locker manager for the rest of my life,” he said.

        And now he won't have to.


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