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College program readies students for college, giving them skills and confidence

PMG PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Rhonda Johnson is a graduate of the Mt. Hood Community College Transitions program and now mentors other women. Some have heart-wrenching stories, some are just wondering what's next in their lives, but around 40 women a year find their way to a powerful college preparatory program at Mt. Hood Community College called Transitions/Transiciones.

"This is about women supporting women, whether it's our mentors or among students. The goal is to build motivation, determination and focus to discover a path through education to a living wage career," said Maylorie Townsend, Transitions coordinator.

"It is a very beneficial program. College is very intimidating," said Jessica Hummel, who started the program in September.

"Most of the women have overcome some sort of adversity, domestic violence, prison. A lot have anxiety, social anxiety," Townsend said.

PMG PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Meghan Butyrin came to the Transitions program after some wrenching family issues and is completing the prerequsites to apply for MHCCs medical assistant program. Transitions can work for women who feel that some of their life experiences are roadblocks to success. It is a program to help women who may be struggling with continuing, beginning or planning their college educations. Transitions students are often older, may be single moms, displaced homemakers, non-English speakers or women facing other challenges that typical college students do not face.

Take Meghan Butyrin, 38, who completed the program in spring 2019 and is now mentoring new Transitions students.

Butyrin discovered her husband was molesting her daughter, his stepdaughter. Going through a wrenching divorce, criminal trial and worried about how all of it was affecting her two children, the stay-at-home mom had no idea where to turn.

"I was left holding the bag," she said. "I hadn't been in the workforce in a decade. I had no idea how I was going to support myself and my kids."

Butyrin's mom began researching possibilities for her daughter and found Transitions.

"I was scared to death to go back to school," she said.

The program helps students develop career goals, catch up on academic deficits, learn how to negotiate college and its resources and make friends.

PMG PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Jessica Hummell said college was intimidating to her, but Transitions is getting her ready step-by-step.

"A lot of the women lack confidence. They think 'I'm not smart enough. I don't have enough money.' They don't understand financial aid," Townsend said.

Graduating to mentor

Rhonda Johnson, 47, completed the Transitions program in spring 2017 and is now mentoring other women in the program.

Johnson fell into heroin addiction and supported herself as a sex worker. She successfully left that life behind and was working, but still was not satisfied with her progress in life.

"I had no computer skills and no laptop," she said.

Johnson worked full-time and came from downtown Portland to attend the Transitions classes. She sought extra help to get her computer skills up to speed. She did her homework at the college because it was the only computer available to her.

She is now enrolled in the Environmental Health and Safety program at the college and will graduate in the summer of 2021. She continues to work full time.

Johnson is looking forward to a high-paying job in this strong-demand field as a safety director with a corporation or an officer with a government agency such as Oregon Occupational Safety and Health agency.

"I want to work for something like OSHA. I want to make sure nobody gets hurt," Johnson says, describing herself as a servant leader.

The Gresham resident also is a setting a good example for her five adult children and just welcomed a grandson in October.

Hummel, 35, found herself in My Father's House shelter with her 9-year-old son, who has multiple disorders. She met Johnson through work. Johnson started mentoring her and recommending Transitions before Hummel even considered the program.

Hummel is mulling some form of medical office career.

"I'm really interested in billing and coding," she said.

Women have to be ready

PMG PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Maylorie Townsend, the Transitions coordinator, said 'I love this work. It is very rewarding. Anything I can do to help women and help them go to college is important.' The Transitions program lasts one three-month college term. It is a set of three classes that meets Mondays and Wednesdays for several hours.

Homework is required and the classes carry some tuition cost. More than 1,000 women have graduated from the program in the last 10 years. The Transiciones program is for Spanish-speaking women.

Women considering Transitions have to be in a position to buckle down and work. If students are currently in crisis or have big challenges in their lives, such as addiction, homelessness or domestic violence, they may not be ready for the program.

Next year, Transitions hopes to start a "pre-Transitions" program for students that need a little more help to be college ready, Townsend said. The focus will be polishing the women's skills so they can do better on the college placement test.

"This gives an opportunity for those who fall just under the line," Townsend said.

The program asks that students are housed, have transportation, enough income for basic necessities and child care, if needed.

Townsend, who has a long list of qualifications in education and workforce development, said "once a Transitions student, always a Transitions student. Being in Transitions helps students get into college programs. They are highly-regarded in the college."

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More information?

If you or someone you know would find Transitions/Transiciones a good fit, or just want more information, call 503-491-7680 to schedule an appointment. The program is located in room AC1002 and is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, except for school holidays. There will be an orientation on Friday, Dec. 13.

There is also a lot of information on the program's web page at: mhcc.edu/Transitions/.


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