Proud students graduate Goodwill Works program

Photo by Jeff Bahr/Proud graduates of Goodwill Works set their sights on the future.


By Jeff Bahr

Eight men and seven women are setting their eyes squarely on success after graduating from the Goodwill Works program on March 30. The four to eight-week trainings at the Goodwill Works office in Newark (GWO in student lingo) are offered predominantly to single parents (unemployed and underemployed are also welcome) and funded by a $750,000 grant made available by the N.J. Dept. of Labor and Workforce Development. After completing a mandatory Soft Skills course that showed students how to use computers and conduct themselves during interviews and other necessary skills, students were asked to choose a course from one of three distinctly different areas of study: Retail sales, Entrepreneurship, and C-Tech – a program that enables participants to obtain certificates in telecommunications, network cabling and other specialized technical areas.

Devised by Goodwill Industries of Greater New York and Northern New Jersey as a way to help parents who, for reasons such as divorce, death of a spouse, abandonment, etc., must now enter the work force. The Goodwill Works program started nearly a year ago and has graduated three classes to date. While the faculty stresses the importance of offering such classes in the future, they concede that the program’s existence relies almost solely on continuing grants from the Dept. of Labor.

A self-described hybrid of “businesswoman and teacher,” Entrepreneurship class instructor Annette Irving Walker spoke of the substantial hurdles that many of the graduates faced in merely getting to class. “The whole evolution brings me to tears,” Walker said in describing the fortitude that the students exhibited. “Some walk to school from Newark, some have no support at home. All are coming from very challenging circumstances. But they did it!”

And “doing it” was no cakewalk according to Walker. Labeled an “intensive 8-week training program” by the teacher, students attended class from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. “While there, they were pushed very, very hard,” she said. The daily grind, though grueling, was of great benefit to the students. “It enhanced their sense of self,” said walker with a prideful look. “Coming through this program brought them (the students) back into believing in themselves,” she added. “It’s a wonderful thing.”

If ear-to-ear smiles and infectious enthusiasm were used as a gauge, Walker’s words rang more than true. At the commencement ceremony held in a large room at Goodwill Industries headquarters in Harrison, ebullient graduates from various age groups stood dressed to the hilt looking, as Walker put it, “ready for business.” Their zeal to get out there and start their new lives was obvious and palpable.

Goodwill Works Senior Vice President, Kirsten Giardi delivered the ceremony’s opening remarks and demonstrated how special the class was in overcoming obstacles. “Back on January 3 when they (the students) started, about 80 people started,” said the V.P. in recalling a moment that now seems like the distant past to many of the students. “But life sometimes gets in the way. Now it’s the ‘Special 18’ that made it through. You need to be acknowledged and congratulated!” When Giardi was asked where the missing three were on this particular day, she happily informed the crowd that they were already busy at “their new jobs.” It turns out the program runs a placement service that begins the instant when students enroll. The “lucky three” were already out there “doing their thing” in the working world, she said.

Class Valedictorian Tyeasha Richardson, graduate of the Entrepreneurship program and proud owner of the newly formed company “Hair from Within” gave a heartfelt speech in praise of the teachers that helped her and the effect that they’ve had on her life. “(Because of the teachers) my life has changed dramatically in these last eight weeks,” said Richardson as she fought back tears. “This is not just a certificate, this program is life-changing.”

Richardson’s words go beyond simple rhetoric. Good Works Entrepreneurship program

Places students on a concrete path to success by hooking them up with a proper company name, an LLC, business cards, licensing and other trade necessities before the students graduate. This allows them to hit the ground running upon graduation. That practical touch ties in strongly with Walker’s outlook on business. “At the end of class each day I’d always tell my students, ‘now go out and make some money!’”

But the Entrepreneurship graduates weren’t the only ones celebrating that day. The Retail Sales and C-Tech graduates were also brimming with pride at the thought of moving ahead in life.

Taking note of this unbridled optimism was keynote speaker, Jersey City Deputy Mayor Kabili Tayari. “I hear Goodwill is fighting to get this program refunded – I hope it does get refunded,” Tayari said with genuine concern in his voice before segueing into a dramatic and inspirational speech.

Tayari recalled how he had once been at the top of the world pulling down a six-figure income. Then the bottom dropped out and he ended up so poor he was forced to live in a church attic. He eventually rebounded, taking an entry-level job under Newark Mayor Sharpe James, but his meaning was clear: Things don’t always go to plan.

Tayari stressed the importance of tenacity to the students. He spoke of how easily the students’ heightened expectations could be knocked down, if they allowed then to be, and that it’s better to expect a rocky road in the beginning than not. But he also reminded the graduates that it’s ultimately up to them to make successes of themselves. “Without a sound sense of faith, you are going nowhere but down,” said Tayari with the quivering fervor of a preacher. “With tenacity, perseverance, faith and love you can knock out elephants!”

And so they commence…

Graduates present included: Retail Sales – Ronald Edmonds, Shelly Foster, Elmo Harvey, Reba Jefferson, and Tammy Young. Entrepreneurship – Mignonne Harden, Cherise Henderson, Tyeasha Richardson, Deborah Stokes, and Valdez White. C-Tech Certificate – Ross Barton, Andrew Cleffi, Samuel Dawkins, Jose Gonzalez, and Esau Weathers.

Teachers present included: Retail Sales – Nicole Jones. Entrepreneurship – Annette Irving Walker. C-Tech – Arnesis Ramos.

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