Noel Edwards was homeless and staying at Good Shepherd Center when Sharron Cain found her. Shameeka Winfield was struggling with the effects of having a criminal record, the result of a mistake she made years ago.
Both will graduate Friday from the fall classes of Project Uplift Career Pathways Academy, a training program for adults of low to moderate incomes. It’s operated by the Countywide Community Development Corp., which serves Brunswick, New Hanover, Pender and Columbus counties.
Both have landed good jobs, Edwards at AME Zion Housing Development Corp. and Winfield at Family Perspectives LLC.
They are among about 30 graduates of Project Uplift classes. One morning last week, Edwards and Winfield were in the office administration class at the Hillcrest Recreation Center off Dawson Street.
About 15 women were working at computer terminals under the tutelage of Carmenitha Berry, an instructor at Cape Fear Community College. They learn about programs such as Excel and PowerPoint, how to send e-mails, book travel tours and other skills. They also learn workplace skills such as creating resumes, handling job interviews and dressing appropriately for work.
The office administration class is a pilot program of CFCC’s, said Sabrina Malloy, Countywide CDC’s program director. She credited CFCC for its cooperation in creating the Project Uplift classes.
A few blocks north, 14 men listened attentively in the skilled trades class as Jerry Burns, another instructor from CFCC, talked about how to wire a house attic.
Most of the men in that class were convicted felons, Cain whispered as the men questioned Burns about where the light fixture should go.
The skilled trades class, housed in the Northside Community Resource Center near 10th and Fanning streets, teaches skills in light construction, electrical work, plumbing, and heating and air conditioning. Masonry skills may be added next year.
Participants in both classes receive financial literacy training, learning how to pay bills and balance checkbooks.
Cain moves about the community seeking qualified applicants for Project Uplift. Every applicant is carefully screened.
She found Edwards, 26, when she visited Good Shepherd. Staffers pointed her out.
“They said, we have a lady in her 20s. She’s not married, she’s not on drugs, but she’s here,” Cain recalled.
Edwards graduated from Laney High School in 2000 and took some classes from Miller-Motte College. After she lost her job in customer service with a grocery store chain, she couldn’t find another.
“I looked for jobs, but with the economy like it is,” she said, then shrugged. “I ended up in a shelter.
“But I have a job now,” she finished happily.
Winfield, 20, is also a Laney grad, Class of 2006. When she was working for a big-box store, she said, she looked the other way while acquaintances were shoplifting. She was convicted of a felony.
“A lot of people make mistakes,” she said. “It’s real stressful. It can stop me from going to school. It can stop me from getting a job.”
But thanks to Project Uplift, she now has a job and the office skills to keep it.
Cain works hard to find employment opportunities, although she can’t guarantee participants a job. Sometimes they work unpaid internships, hoping to prove themselves and land a paying position.
Many of the participants have criminal convictions, Cain said.
“I tell employers there is a background,” Cain said. And to Project Uplift graduates, “I tell them to be open and honest in the interview.”
Project Uplift has formed partnerships with groups in addition to CFCC such as Leading Into New Communities, which helps released convicts, and the Northside Community Resource Center.
For Cain, it’s all about overcoming barriers to employment such as homelessness or a criminal conviction.
She’s looking for employers willing to give people a chance, she said.
For more information about the program, call Countywide CDC at 383-1724.