Craven Community College’s (Craven CC) Job Readiness Boot Camp will begin hosting its program in Vanceboro beginning next month. The program provides a support network and motivates people to get back on track or take their career to the next level. It is open to anyone looking for employment or better job opportunities, regardless of academic achievements or ambitions.
The college began offering the Job Readiness Boot Camp through a partnership with its S.T.E.P. (Strive Train Earn Prosper) program, the Craven-Pamlico Re-entry Council and Religious Community Services (RCS) in June 2017. It is a systematic two-week program divided into six steps. Each step focuses on certain aspects of career readiness, such as discovering strengths and talents, writing effective cover letters and résumés, learning from failure and how to move forward, tips for dressing for success and mock interviews.
The boot camp’s most unique feature is that ex-offenders are welcome. In fact, the program is aimed at reducing recidivism and give those who were previously in prison the tools needed to ease back into society. This transition can be an extremely difficult process as released offenders often face harsh judgment from the public, and many do not have a family or a home to return to. They also face lower income, denial of work, inability to vote, and ineligibility for public housing, student loans, food stamps and more. The Job Readiness Boot Camp gives ex-offenders the support and encouragement needed to succeed once released—a second chance they may not otherwise receive. To date, 39% of former inmates who have completed the Job Readiness Boot Camp are now employed.
Participants tour local restaurants, hotels, tourist sectors and the Craven CC campus to gain more exposure. They also take a Myers-Briggs personality test to match them with jobs in which they are most likely to succeed. They develop a written plan of action for career paths and educational goals to stay on target. Financial assistance may be available for meals, housing, clothing and education to ease the transition and get them back on their feet. The upcoming boot camp will also feature five to six instructors to expose participants to diverse teaching styles.
“I work with a very awesome population, and that’s the unemployed and the underemployed and also embodying in my work what I do with the Re-entry Council,” said Greg Singleton, director of Community Workforce Readiness. “There are a number of barriers that can really get in the way of someone being able to get an opportunity to get a shot at education.”
Singleton, who was on the Craven County Opioid Task Force, witnessed a spike in the number of overdoses over the past year, especially in Vanceboro. As he examined it, he realized that transportation is a major barrier for Vanceboro citizens and noted that it’s about 26 miles just to get to Craven CC.
“I do know that the cure to poverty is education, the cure to the recidivism rate is education, so I just wanted to look at a way—how can I get education there,” said Singleton. “And I teamed up, made some phone calls, started seeing who do I need to connect with. I knew I had to connect with the sheriff because I needed to get an understanding of the area.”
He spoke with Craven County Sheriff Chip Hughes and soon had the Craven County Sheriff’s Department on board. Hughes had previously assisted with the Job Readiness Boot Camp and had firsthand knowledge of its success.
“Now we’re seeing the fruits of the labor,” said Hughes. “Now we’re seeing the success stories. I get calls from people that are going through the program or have, and they show me certificates and ‘I’ve got a job’ and ‘I’m able to provide for my family now.’”
Singleton explained that it can cost anywhere from $29,000 to $34,000 a year for one healthy inmate in North Carolina, while it only costs about $1,500 for this Job Readiness Boot Camp to help potentially hundreds of people stay out of jail and won’t cost taxpayers a dime.
“The recidivism rate in Craven County in our local jails has tipped a million dollars annually,” he said. “Think of the arrests and the same person coming in and out.”
Hughes noted that not everyone in the jail is a bad person; many of them made one poor decision and are dealing with the consequences. He also explained that many inmates are ready to be part of the solution but need the tools to be successful and require guidance on how to become a productive member of society. This was especially apparent once he and Singleton presented the boot camp idea to the inmates.
“Keep in mind these folks that we’re dealing with—if they don’t want to help themselves, you can’t force it on them,” said Hughes. “But from the initial time we went in there and pitched this thing, overwhelming responses from within the jail where, ‘yes, I want to do better; I don’t want to go back to stealing; I want to be able to take care of my kids; I don’t want to be dependent on government to live day in and day out.’”
The three common complaints hindering people from seeking assistance were lack of money, lack of transportation and lack of knowledge of available resources. Singleton and Hughes realized that establishing a boot camp program in the heart of Vanceboro would eliminate these barriers for most of those people. Singleton connected with the mayor of Vanceboro and got the green light.
“I think it’s just going to add so much to our area for folks to be able to come in and get the training, to get employers excited about the skills that folks are going to bring to the table,” said Vanceboro Mayor Chad Braxton. “We’re 110% supportive of this.”
When searching for a location, Singleton considered the need for everyone to maintain social distancing and follow other precautions, while also making sure it remained a commercial space that was in a centralized location for Vanceboro residents. After presenting before the mayor and board of aldermen in Vanceboro, he was directed to the West Craven VFW 11119 facility.
“That is the location where the class will take place,” he said. “It is perfect—it’s so much space and you have room for growth.”
Singleton is working closely with various community partners such as the Food Bank of Eastern North Carolina and Diane Watley, director of the Vanceboro Christian Help Center, to make sure the program can help participants in each aspect of their lives. The Vanceboro-Craven County Public Library loaned some laptops, and Singleton has arranged for International Paper to assist with mock interviews. Hughes has given many mock interviews with boot camp participants as well. He said it can be a rough process but is so impressed with their progress by the end.
“They’re not going to come in there as a proud person of what they’ve done and where they are, so you do have to build up that self-esteem and you do give them pointers,” he said. “I am very critical when I’m grading them initially and the critique is brutal at times, but when we finish after multiple interviews and they keep putting the things in place that we talk about, when they leave there they’re ready, they feel good about it and they’re excited about it. It’s an opportunity that they’ve never had because nobody took the time to go, ‘this is how you need to do a résumé.’”
Singleton added that he is excited to make communities safer while lowering the collateral cost of incarceration. He also shared the exciting news that an anonymous foundation has funded the Job Readiness Boot Camp in its entirety for a whole year.
The first program will run from Jan. 25 through Feb. 5 weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. To register, contact Melinda Becton Powe at 252-633-2767 ext. 202 or STEP@cravencc.edu, or Singleton at 252-638-7247 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was originally published in the New Bern Sun Journal on January 6, 2021.