Job Trainees Are Finding A Way Out From Despair

September 24, 1990|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,staff writer

Julia Griffin never kept a job for long, but when she'd start snorting cocaine, the bills, worries and self-doubts seemed to fade away.

Nancy Newberry felt like an outsider in high school, so she dropped out in the 10th grade. Anything looked better, even working behind a fast-food counter or just sitting around at home.

Try as they might, the Annapolis residents couldn't run from their troubles. Life became more bleak.

Griffin, who'd stopped paying bills she couldn't afford, was evicted from her Eastport apartment. Newberry, who'd lost her job after suffering injuries in a car accident, had no skills and little hope of finding work.

Instead of giving in to despair, both women looked for a way out.

They found one, along with the promise of a better future, at the Opportunities Industrialization Center in Annapolis. The branch of a national, private, nonprofit job-training organization teaches clerical, literacy and job-hunting skills to the unemployed and underemployed who live at or below federal poverty levels.

Friday, the 12-year-old center took a step into the 1990s. IBM Corp. upgraded the OIC with $55,000 worth of state-of-the-art typewriters and personal computers.

The new equipment will mean better job preparation for people like Griffin, 26, now kicking a five-year drug addiction through rehabilitation, and Newberry, 18, now enrolled in graphic arts at Anne Arundel Community College.

"I had no goals in life," said Griffin, who plans to learn word processing at the center she has attended for six weeks. "I didn't want to do anything. I could have gotten some job, but instead of something I had to do, I decided I could get something I want to do and stick with it longer."

IBM has partnerships with 130 community nonprofit groups nationwide, including the Annapolis OIC and the Baltimore Urban League. The company donates and maintains equipment for centers that train either low-income or disabled students.

"We make a reasonable profit in a lot of cities," said Ron Graham, program manager of External Programs for IBM. "We started contributing back."

Since 1968, IBM partnerships have helped find jobs for more than 31,000 students, 80 percent of the centers' graduates, Graham said.

The Annapolis center, supported by government and private industry grants, helps students get high-school equivalency certificates and teaches reading, resume writing, job interviewing and clerical skills, said executive director Edward L. Gresham.

It tailors six- to 26-week training programs to individual needs, serving about 50 students at a time -- high school dropouts, displaced workers and older people trying to re-enter the job market, Gresham said.

"We have had whole families, mothers, fathers and grandmothers," he said.

Some of the students come from county Adult Basic Education, said Jim Williams, coordinator of that program.

"The majority of these people have failed in a regular school setting," Williams said. "They won't set foot in a school, but this is a place they can come to get the same thing."

A Department of Social Services counselor referred Newberry, who had applied for disability insurance after suffering a head injury in a car accident last October.

Newberry graduated from the center after brushing up on math and reading, learning to type and preparing for the placement test the community college required.

Griffin heard about the program from a counselor at Raft House, the residential addiction treatment center in Crownsville where she now lives.

Six weeks ago, she couldn't type. Now she cruises through typing class exercises with no mistakes. She plans to get her high school equivalency diploma and find a job as a receptionist.

"I have my self-esteem back," Griffin said. "It feels good to get up in the morning and have somewhere to go."

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