Career training center is a community resource
When Adan De Leon began learning about computers, he would arrive for his afternoon class at the Manchester Community Resource Center on Lake Avenue on a borrowed bicycle, en route between his two full-time jobs.
The 24-year-old Guatemalan native managed to sandwich his twice-weekly three-hour classes at MCRC between his 6 a.m.-to-noon job at Fratello’s restaurant at the north end of Manchester’s Millyard and his evening’s work busing tables at Piccola Italia Ristorante on Elm Street.
“I really love computers,” he explains. “When you like something and you really want to improve yourself, you need to find the time to schedule it.”
De Leon began taking English as a Second Language classes at the center and later completed “Introduction to the Internet,” followed by courses in Microsoft Word, Excel, Access and PowerPoint. He has since given up his evening job but is taking yet another English class at the University of New Hampshire-Manchester. And he is still wheeling his way around the city.
“Now I have my own bicycle,” he says. “I always use my bicycle, even when it’s cold.” He is working to support his 2-year old son, born here, and to help out his parents, brother and sister back home in Guatemala. He hopes eventually to return there and teach computer classes in his native land.
“I have family there,” he says. “And I don’t like winter, especially riding my bicycle in the snow.”
Helping people ‘upgrade’
The Manchester Community Resource Center has provided job readiness training since the nonprofit agency opened its doors in 1998, says Renie Denton, executive director. About 40 percent of the clients served are immigrants or refugees, she estimates.
The agency annually contracts with the state Department of Health and Human Services to provide training to people on public assistance with language and cultural barriers to employment. Resume writing, job search skills and interviewing techniques are also part of the readiness training.
“Many in that program have never worked, never even worked in the United States, and are currently learning English and getting adjusted to a new life in the United States. We help them get a job, keep a job and then upgrade,” she says.
MCRC got started through a federal Enterprise Community Grant in 1994. In 2006, the center developed and began offering its On-Track career training program, offered both in Manchester and in Franklin at the Franklin Business Center. Torey Kortz, On-Track program director at both locations, also teaches the certified pharmacy technician course.
“The main mission and goal of the On-Track training program is to provide people who may not have a lot of marketable skills technical training along with the soft skills that are needed to become more credible and marketable in their career goals,” says Kortz.
Bosnia-Croatian refugee Slavica Dulabic arrived here with her husband Braco and son Christian in 1998 and worked at a number of jobs before becoming a licensed nursing assistant with the Visiting Nurses Association in Manchester.
Braco, a mechanic, took English and computer classes at MCRC. Slavica took a computer course and this year enrolled in a four-month program to become a certified pharmacy technician, one of several licensed career programs offered at the center.
“I like to improve my education, and it was a very interesting job,” says Slavica.
She completed the course and passed the certification exam of National Healthcareer Association. She now works for Neighborcare, a Pembroke pharmacy serving long-term care, assisted living facilities and nursing homes.
“I think it’s great,” says Kathy Alger, pharmacy tech supervisor at Neighborcare, who has since hired two other pharmacy technicians trained at MCRC. “She worked out so well that I decided to call Torey to find out what goes on in the school and asked her if I could use her as a referral next time I needed somebody.”
Alger believes the combination of classroom and practical training prepares the students well for the pharmacy work. “They get to do hands-on what they were taught in class and put it to use,” she says.
Slavica, who now works part-time for the VNA on weekends, is enjoying her new career. “It was very tough to work and go to school, but I made it,” says Slavica. “I don’t know how I made it. (Torey) was very good at explaining everything.”
Career training also include programs for administrative assistant, human services assistant and “Healthcare Foundations” courses.
Christy Pina, a single mother of two, had been laid off from her job at Mail Data when she enrolled in the administrative assistant program at MCRC. She is now a data processor at New England Document Center in Manchester.
“I asked unemployment what they could do for me about school,” says Pina, who chose the Community Resource Center from among the options offered. “It was really nice, small classes, five or six girls. It was broken down so you could specialize in medical finance or customer support finance.” In her current job, Pina works on “backup files, mostly hospital things, doing backup to the Internet database for the job files.”
Class sizes are kept intentionally small, Denton says.
“We try not to put more than six people in a class. A lot of people are not comfortable in a traditional classroom setting.” They fare better with more of a one-on-one approach, she says.
No one has to be hit by lightning to take part in On-Track training, but that’s what brought Andover resident Maureen Spada to the program.
Spada was a rehabilitation specialist at a facility in Concord when the accident occurred.
“I was sitting in the office and the lightning came through the window and got me,” says Spada. “I wasn’t able to perform the duties I was doing before. My right leg is damaged. I still have trouble walking.”
She entered a vocational rehabilitation program in Concord and later decided to put her experience in dealing with patients and their various medicines to use by training to become a pharmacy technician through the On-Track program in Franklin.
“It was hard,” she says. “The math was really a struggle. I also knew, at 42 years old, I had to do something.”
She had taken a temporary job while taking the course and was able to keep going until she finished and passed the exam.
“I’ll tell you, there were times I didn’t think I was going to,” she says adding, “I was determined to graduate, one way or another.”
Since its start last year, the On-Track programs in Manchester and Franklin have 404 graduates from its various career training programs and have found jobs for more than 85 percent of them at an average wage of $12.48 an hour.
In addition to the job readiness and career training, the center has developed a Greater Manchester Asset Building Coalition, made up of social service agencies, financial institutions and area businesses to plan strategies to help low-income families gain financial assets. MCRC also conducts financial literacy workshops.
With the largest Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program in the state, MCRC has prepared and electronically filed roughly 2,300 federal tax returns for low-income families each of the last seven years. In many instances, that saves families with language barriers or other difficulties the expense of having to pay to have their tax returns done for them, Denton says.
“When we first opened our doors, we were everything to everyone,” says Denton. “If someone came in with multiple barriers to employment, we tried to help them with everything.”
MCRC has found its niche by avoiding duplication of services provided by other social service agencies. “What was missing was employment and career training and financial management,” she says. “We now focus on what we do really well.”
For more information on Manchester Community Resource Center, visit www.mcrcnh.com.