There are all kinds of graduations. Some fill stadiums with robed graduates and cheering families, but a much different kind occurred last week in a low-slung building in Rockwood with the entire gathering sitting on a score of molded plastic chairs.
Thirteen women received graduation certificates and swag bags as the first graduating class of a new program called Skills2Work. A handful of friends and family members joined the graduates for cake and congratulations.
"I wish you all just amazing success," said Michelle Weisenbach, president of KeyBank Oregon & Southwest Washington. KeyBank has funded the entire program.
Skills2Work is a six-week program started by the nonprofit organization Human Solutions. It prepares people for job training and coaching.
Participants have big barriers to employment. Most of them have been unhoused until getting into the shelter where the graduation took place. Some have dealt with domestic violence, health problems and other issues.
"I am more grateful to these people than anyone in my life," said Mary Coffey, clutching her certificate.
Coffey had been unhoused for months, suffered health issues and came to the shelter from the hospital.
"Skills2Work has given me and my classmates a fun and responsible introduction to new pathways to careers," she said.
The first class of graduates were all women, most living at the shelter. Human Solutions plans five more cohorts this year, and not all of the groups will be all female.
Jennifer Bonnette, a job coach in the program, said the weekly sessions concentrated on so-called "soft skills" connected with employment such as having an appropriate attitude, showing up on time and conflict resolution. The students worked on budgeting and other skills.
Shawna Hoffman said the women worked on setting priorities and goals.
"The women are rebuilding their self-esteem and self-confidence. Being houseless in itself is traumatic," Hoffman said.
"We're reminding them of the skills they already have."
Jaclyn Bell, a woman in the program who has not been homeless, said the six-week program "reset my sights. I've been horrible at money management and it reinforced how important it is to live within your means. And, it emphasized self care. That's one thing I'm challenged at."
She said the program "made me present in my own life," adding that "a space was created for us to come together so we can be the directors of our own lives. It was amazing. It was a great experience."
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