By Holly Desrosier
On a crisp, cloudy Monday morning, 11 people sit at desks in a brightly lit classroom. A large whiteboard and motivational posters decorate the soft yellow walls. The class is listening intently and taking notes as a well-dressed man named Junie Christian speaks to them.
He tells them stories of his humble beginnings from the tiny island of Antigua, where everyone is friendly and carefree, and the culture shock of moving to New York City at the impressionable age of 15. He talks about falling into the trap of stereotypical life on the streets with no drive to rise above it.
He recounts that one day, a stranger decided to take a chance on him and helped him join the Army. That same day, Christian was on a jet headed to California and never looked back during the 24 years he served his country. Today, he is a volunteer coach and mentor and the CEO of J. Christian & Associates.
Christian is just one of many volunteers who sets aside time for one of Craven Community College’s (Craven CC) newest programs, which aims to help those who have gotten off track or need a little push to take that next step forward in their career.
Craven CC’s S.T.E.P. (Strive Train Earn Prosper) program, in conjunction with the Craven-Pamlico Re-entry Council and Religious Community Services (RCS), offers a Job Readiness Boot Camp that provides a support network and motivates people to get back on track or take their career to the next level.
The Job Readiness Boot Camp is a systematic one-week program divided into four 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. To ensure exposure, participants tour local restaurants, hotels, tourist sectors and the Craven CC campus.
In addition, participants must take a Myers-Briggs personality test to help 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.
One key aspect that makes the boot camp unique is that its doors are open to ex-offenders. In fact, the program is designed to reduce recidivism and give those formerly imprisoned the tools needed to ease back into society.
Recidivism is defined as a return to incarceration following release from prison or jail. According to the latest study of state prisoners by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a staggering 76.6% of released prisoners end up back behind bars within five years. However, inmates who participate in correctional education are 43% less likely to return to prison within three years.
The transition back into society can be a brutal one for released prisoners. They face harsh judgment from the public and often do not have a family or a home to return to. They often face lower earnings, denial of work, the inability to vote, and ineligibility for public housing, student loans, food stamps and more. Ex-offenders need support and encouragement once released. The Job Readiness Boot Camp gives them a second chance they may not otherwise receive.
Re-entry Council agencies are taking concrete steps not only to reduce recidivism and high correctional costs, but also to improve public health, child welfare, employment, education, housing and other crucial elements of societal re-integration.
A vital lesson for participants to learn is that, more importantly than looking for a job, they are investing in their futures. Lifestyle change requires more than just a weeklong class; it takes diligence and a willingness to put forth time and effort. The way to get there, according to Christian, is having the right mindset. “That’s what Craven Community College is trying to do,” he says. “They’re trying to change the way you think and the way you react.”
Christian points out that the only thing that separates their situations from his can be summed up in two words: discipline and consistency. He emphasizes the importance of time management and taking full advantage of every free moment. After sharing his story, Christian listens as the participants tell him their stories and any thoughts or concerns they have.
He explains that in order to be successful, people need to feel comfortable in their own skin. “I don’t care who you are. If you know who you are, what you’re about and the skills you have, when you walk into a job interview you’ll be so comfortable it will just be a conversation.”
The boot camp program is open to anyone looking for employment or better job opportunities. In January’s boot camp, two participants had master’s degrees and one had a bachelor’s degree.
Seventy-two students have completed the boot camp since its June 2017 inception. Of those students, about 30% have gained full-time employment and over 85% have shown progress in applying for jobs with proper cover letters and résumés, getting interviews and enrolling at Craven CC in the GED program or other college courses.
“To see progression and positive movement in the students is like watching a metamorphosis – to see a student as a caterpillar turning into a beautiful butterfly is so majestic,” said Greg Singleton, director of community workforce readiness at Craven CC. “They break glass ceilings and find the hope and motivation to fly high.”
Upon completion of the boot camp, the participants haven’t just learned job skills – they have gained self-confidence and a sense of purpose. That is something that will stick with them for life.
“This is not about a job,” says Christian. “It’s about freedom. Do you want to be free? If the answer is yes, are you willing to do what it takes to be free?”
The next boot camp will be held March 16-23 at the RCS Annex at 503 Guion St., New Bern.
For more information about the Job Readiness Boot Camp or the Craven-Pamlico Re-entry Council, contact Angela Wilson, S.T.E.P. program specialist at 252-514-3189 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Singleton at 252-638-7247 or email@example.com.