Posted Online: June 25, 2011, 8:45 pm

New help available for unemployed to find new jobs

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By Jonathan Turner, jturner@qconline.com

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Photo: Paul Colletti
After her family's financial situation changed dramatically Mary Armstrong took advantage of a new grant that allowed her to go back to school. Ms. Armstrong has completed training to be a certified nursing assistant in turn allowing her to better provide for her son, Robert, and daughter, -----.
This past spring, life looked bleak for Mary Armstrong of Rock Island and her family.

Her husband, Donald, was laid offas a cook at Granite City restaurant in Davenport, and hours at her job as a home health aide for senior citizens had been cut. To help pay their bills and provide for two children -- a13-year-old girl and 15-month old boy -- Ms. Armstrong recently completed training as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) thanks to a new private grant.

"I never could have afforded the program on my own, and I've already learned so much and can't wait to use this new knowledge in my career," Ms. Armstrong -- a36-year-old Davenport Central High graduate who had not been to college before -- said Thursday. "This opportunity has let my family get back on its feet."

The Hubbell-Waterman Foundation gave $250,000 for a new partnership among United Way,Eastern Iowa Community College District and Black Hawk College, totrain unemployed and underemployed workers to develop new skills. Financial aid covered Ms. Armstrong's four-week class at Scott Community College and state testing afterward to be certified.

"It was quite a chunk of change," she said. "It was very important. We had to make our rent, everything else."

"I wanted a better education, more opportunity," Ms. Armstrong said, noting she has a second CNA interview with Trinity Rock Island next week, and her family is on state assistance for medical benefits. Her husband now is working two part-time jobs, at Hardee's in Moline and Papa Bear's restaurant in Davenport.

The foundation funding is split between the two colleges. There's an application process to see if a student would qualify. This allows people to get trained quickly and get back into the workforce, said Glenda Nicke, dean of adult and continuing education at Black Hawk.

"Many short-term programs cannot be paid for by more traditional forms of financial aid, so this project has filled a gap in the support system," she said. Qualified applicants can be in a part-time job, but must have a work history and a specific career in mind, with classes chosen to earn new skills, Ms. Nicke said.

"We have them meet with an adviser, to make sure that their career choice or plan is a realistic plan, and they understand what's involved with the requirements," she said, noting BHC has approved aid for about 25 people so far (there is no maximum financial aid set per person). "They have to have the ability to complete the training, thought about how they will get to class, and have day care -- things like that."

Erika Wignall, of Milan, is a single parent and attended a class in drawing blood at BHC. She has been working as a hotel desk clerk, but her hours were cut, motivating her to pursue something more.

Now Ms. Wignall is applying for jobs and going on interviews in her new field. "I could not have done it without the help," she said.

Among other fields people are pursuing are nursing, dialysis technician, welding, truck driving and computer training, Ms. Nicke said.

"We are very pleased that we can provide this critical service to those newly unemployed or underemployed," said C. Dana Waterman III, a trustee of The Hubbell-Waterman Foundation. "In these economic times, finding a job can be very challenging. By providing career re-skilling in such a short period of time, people quickly can get back into the workforce and start providing for their families again."

"We have been able to offer financial assistance for classes to train individuals in a variety of careers – from manufacturing to healthcare. We can't believe the difference it's making in their lives," saidDeb Goodall of Eastern Iowa Community College District. "The students are more confident and motivated to pursue their new careers."

To learn more or to enroll in the program, contact the Eastern Iowa district at (563) 336-3444 or Black Hawk College at (309) 796-8229.