Candace Jenkins fought back tears as she spoke to fellow graduates from Virginia’s SNAP Employment & Training Pilot project on Friday. As she talked about the emotional lows of being unemployed, Jenkins covered her face and cried.
She quickly regained her composure.
“You have all the energy in the world to find a job, to want the job, but you just can’t get the job,” Jenkins said. “So you have other people that look and you and say ‘well you’re not doing anything, you’re not doing the footwork.’
“They don’t understand that you have been dealt cards where you’re trying hard but you don’t get nothing in return.”
Jenkins said it was during one of these low periods that she found Thomas Nelson’s training program. Jumping at the chance to get an education in a field that would give her a livable wage, she signed up and is now a certified welder.
Jenkins was one of 44 students to graduate from the SNAP Employment and Training Pilot Project Friday. Most of the graduates were unable to attend the ceremonies because they were working at their new jobs.
Virginia's EleVAte SNAP Employment & Training Pilot project gives free career training to SNAP — food stamp — recipients. Students can become certified in welding, apartment maintenance, medical administrative assistants and more.
The training program is funded by a three-year grant from the United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service. The department is studying programs in 10 states to see which one is the most successful at helping SNAP recipients get out of poverty. The department will check in with students five years after they graduate to see how they’re doing and help determine which program was the most successful.
While the program takes place at Thomas Nelson, it is administered by the Virginia Department of Social Services because the program provides transportation assistance, eye exams and eyeglasses, job interview clothing, tools and work uniforms on top of the job training. Val Livingston, a social worker who was hired as program director, said that with the number of services and training the program provides, it’s one of the best packages she’s seen in terms of supportive services.
“This was a really great grant,” Livingston said. “It provided for a lot of the needs of the students.”
Deborah Wright, vice-president of workforce development at Thomas Nelson, said of the first 10 students who signed up, ony six students graduated from the first training program, compared to 44 students who graduated last week. Livingston said the program has a 70 percent graduation rate.
Imani Turner, another SNAP program graduate, is now a certified medical administrative assistant. She said she was so excited when she passed her national certification test she started crying. Turner has already found and started a job.
After graduation certificates had been given out, families and graduates milled about eating sheet cake and congratulating one another. While the training program will end Dec. 31, its so far helped 95 students create a better life for themselves.
“I was disappointed people were not fighting to get in the program,” Jenkins said. “At first, I could not believe it. I was like are you serious? You're going educate me for free? And I’m going to make this amount of money? Are you sure?
“I’m glad I was one of the people who showed up.”
Want to know more?
Visit Thomas Nelson’s website at tns.edu/snap to learn more about Virginia's EleVAte SNAP Employment & Training Pilot project.
Amelia Heymann can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on twitter @HeymannAmelia.