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July 2015 Newsletter

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In This Edition:
  • Thanks to You: Priscilla knows she's worthy
  • 1015 in 2015: Our 15th Year in Review
  • Second round of funding boosts Road Map to College
  • Wise guidance for Opportunity Junction trainees
  • Priscilla and her children
    "Opportunity Junction changed my life. I know I am worthy of a happy life, and I am working every day to earn it for myself and my children."
    Thanks to you: Priscilla knows she's worthy
    A victim of child abuse, Priscilla Rosalez wanted something better for her children. Nonetheless, as a young mother, she found herself in an abusive relationship. She shares, "Every time I left him, I kept going back. I didn't want another failed relationship and broken family. I had a dream of a mom and dad raising a family together-something I never had. I convinced myself that I could make it work." When Priscilla finally left him, she was raising her children alone, working a dead-end job. "Opportunity Junction changed my life. I talked to Catherine (onsite therapist) about the darkest parts of my life I never shared with anyone. She helped me not blame myself and to let go of the anger I'd been harboring for so long. She prepared me to be happier with myself emotionally. They also helped me find a customer service position at a local construction-equipment company. Now, I have a positive self-image and my confidence back. I know I am worthy of a happy life, and I am working every day to earn it for myself and my children." Here's what your support helped Priscilla accomplish.
    15 year anniversary 1015 in 2015: Our 15th Year in Review
    Dear Opportunity Junction community: Everyone who is willing to work hard deserves an opportunity to succeed. In this, our 15th year, thanks to your partnership, East Contra Costa job-seekers are getting more of those opportunities. For the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2015, Opportunity Junction served 1,015 unique human beings in one or more of our programs! Read more...
    College students in various career tracks Second round of funding boosts Road Map to College
    The California Workforce Investment Board has, for a second year, chosen Opportunity Junction's partnership with Los Medanos College for a prestigious Workforce Accelerator Fund contract. Job-seekers engage in the Road Map to College planning process and visualize college success and the support they'll need. Then Opportunity Junction and Los Medanos provide that support. Learn more...
    Rick and Christine Wise
    Wise guidance for Opportunity Junction trainees
    Rick and Christine Wise are a formidable teaching team, guiding Opportunity Junction trainees through the intricacies of Business English. Rick explains why he loves the work: "They're very inspiring. We kind of laugh and Christine says, 'If only my [high school] seniors had been this motivated,' and I say, 'If I had ever conducted a staff meeting where people were hanging on your every word....' It's very gratifying to have students who care, want to learn, are interested, and respond to what you're teaching." Here's their story...

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    Thanks to You: Priscilla knows she's worthy

    Priscilla and her family

    As a recent high school graduate enrolled in a pharmacy-tech program, Priscilla Rosalez had a plan for her life and a vision for her future. A victim of child abuse and then raised by extended family, Priscilla found her early years to be difficult. Despite the challenging circumstances, she envisioned her future with a steady career and a stable home life for her own family.

    Priscilla's plans changed, however, when she discovered she was pregnant. She delayed her pharmacy-training start date and planned to raise her son alone. Still committed to her future, Priscilla believed things were getting back on course when she began a relationship with a man who supported her decision for continued education and treated her young son as his own. "He was a good role model for my son," Priscilla shares, "and our relationship was strong. It wasn't until I was pregnant again that the physical abuse started."

    Priscilla's three children

    "Every time I left him, I kept going back. I didn't want another failed relationship and broken family. I had a dream of a mom and dad raising a family together -- something I never had. I convinced myself that I could change things and make it work."

    After police involvement and restraining orders, Priscilla summoned the courage to end that relationship, but her self-esteem was destroyed and she didn't know how to have a healthy relationship. "I was filled with so much anger and resentment from everything in my past, and it spilled over into every part of my life."

    Priscilla found herself pregnant again and working a dead-end fast-food job. When her daughter was five months old and her two sons were 6 and 9, Priscilla realized she would again be raising her children alone. She knew she had to change the course of her life, to get somewhere close to that dream she had when she graduated from high school. That's when she heard about Opportunity Junction.

    Priscilla and her sons

    "I prayed that Opportunity Junction would accept me into the administrative program. I tried alone to support myself and failed. I had three failed relationships. I didn't want to fail as a mother and needed help."

    Priscilla quickly found that the program offered much more than she expected. "The computer skills were important to begin a new career, but my life was changed during my work with Catherine, the Director of Counseling. I talked to Catherine about the darkest parts of my life I never shared with anyone. She helped me not blame myself and to let go of the anger I'd been harboring for so long. She prepared me to be happier with myself emotionally."

    Thanks to an employer connection, Priscilla completed the Job Training and Placement Program and secured a customer service position at a local construction-equipment company. She was now gainfully employed, but her challenges were not over and Opportunity Junction was still there to help. Priscilla had accrued nearly $13,000 in fines because of her previous instability and personal challenges, and Opportunity Junction referred her to Homeless Court of Contra Costa County to help get the fines waived. Because of the fines, Priscilla had been relying on rides from friends and walking to get to training and then to her new job because her driver's license had been suspended. With Opportunity Junction support, Priscilla had her license back within a few weeks.

    Looking back on her journey, she says, "Thanks to Opportunity Junction I have a positive self-image and my confidence back. I know I am worthy of a happy life, and I am working every day to earn it for myself and my children."

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    1015 in 2015: Our 15th Year in Review

    Alissa Friedman Dear Opportunity Junction community: Everyone who is willing to work hard deserves an opportunity to succeed. In this, our 15th year, thanks to your partnership, East Contra Costa job-seekers are getting more of those opportunities. For the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2015, Opportunity Junction served 1,015 unique human beings in one or more of our programs! Those programs range from intense job training and career counseling to our lighter-touch evening classes and tax assistance. That 1,015 number compares to 877 last year, and it's the first time in our history that we've exceeded 1,000.

    15 year anniversary Job placement outcomes: In our intensive programs for job-seekers, we engaged 394 participants and alumni, and the results were outstanding. We placed 100 unique program participants into initial employment at an average starting wage of $14.74 per hour. The total number of initial placements was less than last year's 112, but the starting wage was 10% higher. In addition, we helped 72 program alumni get placed into new jobs or earn raises and promotions with their existing employers. On top of all that, we launched our new Road Map to College partnership with Los Medanos College, where employment outcomes will take longer to achieve.

    Fundraising highlights: Of course, none of this happens without funding, and we are grateful to all of our donors, sponsors, and government and foundation supporters.

    The 2015 Imagine Gala: Hats Off to You!
    Early in the year, our fundraising was given a kick start by Summit Financial Group, which selected us as the beneficiary of their September 2014 Charity Golf Tournament. Building on that, the results from Opportunity Junction's 8th Annual Imagine Gala, presented by Chevron, were outstanding again this year! In addition to the fun had by all, we raised $105,000 (net) to help get Contra Costa families on the road to self-sufficiency. Featured alumna Elizabeth Lopez attended the party, and you can watch her video here.

    And the year ended with two other noteworthy developments. First, we were awarded a three-year grant by The California Wellness Foundation, in recognition of the strong correlation between economic stability and health. Then we were granted a second year of funding through the California Workforce Investment Board's Workforce Accelerator Fund. The contract supports our Job-Seeker Designed Pathway partnership with Los Medanos College, which we market to job-seekers as the aforementioned Road Map to College. We're excited about following through with our pilot cohort, launching a second cohort, and consulting with local experts about ways to scale and sustain the program.

    Opportunity Junction was awarded Nonprofit of the Year Awards: We were honored, this year, to be selected as the 2014 Nonprofit of the Year by the Antioch Chamber of Commerce. We were delighted to have been nominated for the award by one of our job-training alumni.

    None of this would be possible without your partnership and support. I've been here long enough to remember, with gratitude, the key transitions in our development as an organization that were led or supported by you, our community of partners.

    Thank you for your part in creating opportunities and changing lives,

    Alissa's signature



    Alissa Friedman, Executive Director

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    Second round of funding boosts Road Map to College

    College students on various career tracks

    The California Workforce Investment Board has, for a second year, chosen Opportunity Junction's partnership with Los Medanos College for a prestigious Workforce Accelerator Fund contract.

    The partnership helps low-income job-seekers leverage the extensive career technical education offered at Los Medanos. Job-seekers engage in the Road Map to College planning process and visualize college success and the support they'll need. Then Opportunity Junction and Los Medanos provide that support.

    Opportunity Junction's role is extensive: recruiting of and outreach to low-income job-seekers, career counseling, ongoing support (including money for books, food, and other expenses not covered by financial aid), and job placement at program completion. Key partners on the project include Los Medanos College, Pathways Consultants, and experts from the Contra Costa County Workforce Development Board, the Y&H Soda Foundation, and the Bay Area Workforce Funding Collaborative.

    student speaking in classroom Together with Pathways Consultants, which runs the planning session, Opportunity Junction has developed a toolkit for replication of Road Map to College by other organizations and colleges. That toolkit was presented to US Representative Mark DeSaulnier and a group of assembled employers, educators, and workforce professionals in May when the Congressman visited the OJ office on a listening tour on education and the workforce. The toolkit is available here.

    Road Map to College participants attended the meeting with Congressman DeSaulnier and recounted their experiences in the program. They described the challenges they needed to overcome - transportation, childcare, books, and even food - and how the program helped them overcome those challenges.

    This year, we will focus on three key Road Map to College developments. First, we will continue to support the pilot cohort through program completion. At present, 17 of the 20 who enrolled in January have either completed their program or enrolled in the next semester at Los Medanos, and we want to follow them all through program completion and job placement. Next, we will launch a second cohort in January, to test the replicability of the model. Finally, we are engaging local experts in workforce development and community college partnerships to develop a scalable and sustainable funding model for this work.

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    Wise guidance for Opportunity Junction trainees

    Rick and Christine Wise came from different career paths to land in an Opportunity Junction classroom, instructing our program participants on the appropriate use of English in the business environment. But despite their contrasting professional backgrounds, this husband and wife function seamlessly as a team in their new volunteer-teacher roles at OJ, to the considerable benefit of our trainees.

    Rick and Christine Wise

    Rick, a retired banker, first learned of Opportunity Junction as chairperson of the East Bay Leadership Council in the late 1990s. During this period, TechProse owner Meryl Natchez took advantage of her position as co-chair of the council's Technology Task Force to launch the development of Opportunity Junction.

    Rick recalls, "As we learned more about the organization, we wrote a few checks, and we also indicated that we'd like to help in some other way."

    Christine with participants

    Christine adds, "Our interest was always in volunteer work. But a lot of times you're scooping food on a plate and you're never encountering the client. We were looking for someplace to use our volunteer time directly with the client, something that reflects the kind of satisfaction a teacher gets, that personal connection."

    They thought more about it while hiking a 100 kilometer section of the Camino de Santiago trail in Spain, and then, back home, the situation they were looking for appeared: teaching Business English as volunteers at Opportunity Junction. Christine had spent 25 years teaching English in Contra Costa classrooms, so the assignment was right up their collective alley.

    Rick and Christine with class They conduct their course over eight weeks on Friday mornings. Rick describes how they work as a team in the classroom: "Christine does the traditional English teaching, and I connect it to the business world, how the way you write and express yourself might be relevant to business."

    As retirees, of course, they could be taking it easy, and teaching any subject in any venue is hard work. The answer to the question of why they do it speaks to both the kind of people they are and to the compelling nature of the Opportunity Junction mission. For Christine, it involves her commitment not only to teaching in general, but to teaching here: "I loved every day in the classroom, but our students here are really remarkable because they're so dedicated and committed, and they listen and they absorb and they ask questions. It's the best."

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    New Grants and Support for our Programs

    We are proud and grateful to announce the following new grants and funding partnerships:

    East Bay Community Foundation The Anonymous Fund at the East Bay Community Foundation: A second Anonymous Fund has issued a grant of extremely valuable core operating support. The depth and effectiveness of the Job Training and Placement Program could not be sustained without grants like this one.

    AT&T AT&T has issued a grant to support our evening Technology Center, which bridges the digital divide by offering low-income adults free classes in computer applications, as well as general access to computers and the Internet.

    Y&H Soda Foundation Y&H Soda Foundation: We are thrilled to be entering into the third year of our Alumni Advancement Academy pilot, funded by the Foundation. This is the Foundation's sixth year of partnership in supporting our overall Job Training and Placement Program. The Y&H Soda Foundation is committed to the full participation and prosperity of the underserved.

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    Newsletter Contributors: Brianna Burkman, Alissa Friedman, and Bob Menzimer. Photographs by PhotoSophistry, Brianna Burkman, and Eva Luo (with editing by Natasha DeAlmeida). Newsletter assembled by Lea Mason. (Thanks, Lea!)

    On the Road to Self-Sufficiency — Opportunity Junction fights poverty by helping low-income Contra Costa residents gain the skills and confidence to get and keep jobs that support themselves and their families.

    Opportunity Junction is exempt from federal income taxation under Section 501(C)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.
    © Opportunity Junction 2015

     

     
     
     
     

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