Roxanne Jones walked up to the podium Friday, had a pin placed on her white collar and then received her diploma.
It was a graduation that held much promise for the future. Ms. Jones, 37, who had been on and off welfare all her life, received her diploma as a geriatric nursing assistant from Deaton Hospital and Medical Center.
She walked across the stage with tears in her eyes and a big smile on her face, then blushed, slightly embarrassed, as her friends called out from the audience, "Way to go, girl! We're so proud of you!"
Ms. Jones graduated from a new program jointly run by the Baltimore City Office of Employment Development and Deaton Hospital's School of Geriatric Nursing Assistants. The program's goal is to get people off welfare and "provide individuals with the skills to obtain upwardly mobile jobs," said Tim Betts, manager of the employment agency.
Ms. Jones has had her share of hardships. The mother of five children, ages 9 to 19 years, worked at the Parks Sausage Co. for two years before being laid off. Unemployed, she went on welfare for seven months before enrolling in Project Independence, a local, state, and federal initiative designed to find jobs for welfare recipients with families.
She went through a series of interviews and tests, then the city offered to pay her way through the Deaton program. When she was accepted, she said, "I went into a state of shock. I always wanted to nurse, and now I had the opportunity."
"Now that I'm done, I feel terrific," Ms. Jones continued. "This program is the best thing that ever happened to me."
"Roxanne was the ideal student," her teacher, Barbara Tucker, said. "She was very dependable, respectful and courteous, and she studied hard."
Ms. Jones now plans to work for a year at Deaton as a health assistant, then go on to college and earn her license as a registered nurse.
Deaton graduated 20 other geriatric nursing assistants Friday -- the second class since the program began this year. Thirty-two students enrolled in the four-month program in January and 30 graduated. Of those students, half already have jobs and the others expect to have jobs within the next month.
"OED has been very, very pleased with the results here," said Mr. Betts. "Right now, we are negotiating a new contract with Deaton for 50 new spots in the program in September."