There are crossroads in life where failure seems as likely an outcome as success.
At the Atlanta Regional Commission, our Career Resource Centers routinely help people who are facing these kinds of make-or-break moments.
Some are trying to jumpstart a career with an outdated skill-set. Others are seeking to forge a professional path in a new country while learning a new language. And many must find the time and resources to invest in education or training while bringing in money to put food on the family table.
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ARC, which manages WorkSource Atlanta Regional, provides a range of services to meet the needs of today’s job seekers and employers. It’s humbling to think about the thousands of lives that have been changed and the countless hurdles that have been overcome.
Each December, ARC takes the time to spotlight some of the most notable success stories from our workforce programs. I hope you find these accounts as inspiring as I do.
The Long Road to Career Success: Lucyl-Mams Fonkeng
Lucyl-Mams Fonkeng knew it was time for a change. After being laid off from a second financial services firm in just three years, she’d decided to become an occupational therapy assistant.
The catch: This required years of expensive training. But she learned about the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) from the Georgia Department of Labor and was able to secure financial support through the program.
That assistance allowed her to complete prerequisite health sciences courses at Gwinnett Technical College.
Still, the road wasn’t smooth. After tiring of commuting multiple hours each day to and from Augusta Tech, “Mams,” as she goes by, rented a campus apartment in Augusta for her family.
Finally, the payoff arrived. She completed her degree and achieved national certification. Now, she works with Aegis Therapies, Inc., where she loves her job, and earns 50% more than she did previously.
The icing on the cake? While attending school, Mams also managed to find the time to become a U.S. citizen.
A “Life-Changing” Opportunity: Victor Opara
Like many immigrants, Nigerian-born Victor Opara received a shock upon moving to the United States: His educational credentials did not translate. Having little alternative, he started out life in his new home as a sales associate at Walmart.
In search of a better professional path, he navigated an unfamiliar educational system in a new language. At a GED preparation class at Gwinnett Technical College, he learned about WIOA, which he called “life changing.”
A JobSmart workshop helped Victor hone his interviewing, networking, and job search skills. He enrolled in Gwinnett Tech’s building maintenance technology program in January 2015. Meanwhile, he continued to work the night shift at Walmart while putting in hours at the Gwinnett Tech bookstore during peak seasons.
It all paid off. With a perfect 4.0 grade point average, Victor graduated in September 2016 with a building maintenance diploma and a degree in air conditioning technology.
He was hired by Sodexo Facilities Management Company a full month before graduation, earning a 36% increase in salary.
Changing Young Lives: Phil Williams, Lil’ Jimmy Productions
“Lil’ Jimmy” is an animated character who comes to life to promote positive messages to young people. It’s also the star of the kids’ radio program “In the Corner with Lil’ Jimmy,” the brainchild of Phil Williams.
Phil works hand-in-hand with the nonprofit Hearts to Nourish Hope to introduce young people to the field of audio production. The nonprofit is a service provider of the Atlanta Regional Workforce Development Board’s NextGen committee, which helps to develop and recommend employment and training policy for people ages 16-24.
Under Phil’s guidance, interns get hands-on instruction in radio and live performance production. He also helps teach other, more fundamental lessons: accountability, respect, and the importance of community.
Helping a Go-Getter to Get There: Mauricio Ayala
Mauricio Ayala needed a fresh start.
The teenager had spent time in Gwinnett County Juvenile Court System for driving without a license. He enrolled in WIOA’s NextGen program, which helped him pursue his GED.
Mauricio had always been a go-getter, helping his mom and dad make ends meet at home. However, this led to problems when he first entered the GED prep class at Gwinnett Tech, where he occasionally missed class in order to make it to his job.
Mauricio’s counselors say he was a great kid who had to grow up fast, facing adult responsibilities like helping his family put food on the table.
“Once Mauricio was pushed in the right direction,” said one Gwinnett Career Resource Center staff member, “he ran with it, and continues to run with it.”
In the end, he committed to the course work and was able to pass the GED exam. His entire family attended his graduation ceremony to share in his accomplishment.
Mauricio now owns a business, Ayala’s Painting. He is thinking ambitiously about his future and is considering a career path as an electrician through the IBEW.
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