Gaining on self-sufficiency Graduates: Some 30 public housing residents are a step closer to employment after completing a collaborative program designed to teach them marketable skills.

July 30, 1998|By Jamal E. Watson | Jamal E. Watson,SUN STAFF

Barbara Lomax said she was having a run of bad luck. She lost her youngest son to AIDS three years ago, was diagnosed with breast cancer in February and has since developed diabetes.

She was on the verge of losing all hope -- but heard about a Baltimore Housing Authority program geared to helping low-income residents in public housing projects get back on track.

"In February, I had a mastectomy, but by April, I told everyone that I am going to school," said Lomax, 52, who lives in the Hollander Ridge housing project on the city's eastern edge.

Yesterday, she was among the 30 students who graduated from the Resident Initiative Program, a collaborative effort of Baltimore City Community College (BCCC) and the housing authority.

"Despite my physical ailment, I thought, there is no need being depressed," Lomax said. "Life doesn't stop because you're getting sick."

After three months of computer classes at BCCC's Liberty Campus, she earned a certificate from the computer specialist program at the college's business and education center.

"It was difficult going to chemotherapy and attending classes at the same time," she said, "but it was worth it."

Come next week, Lomax said, she'll start sending out her resume in hopes of securing a computer-related job.

Lomax is just the kind of person that housing authority officials had in mind when they started the program with BCCC three years ago, aiming to provide residents with skills that will enable them to find a job or continue in higher education, according to Kylla Williams, director of the authority's Division of Resident Initiatives.

"This is just the beginning of your journey," Williams told the graduates in a ceremony at BCCC yesterday. "The ultimate goal is to help you to become self-sufficient."

According to Williams, the housing authority recruits and places residents in one of two programs: geriatric nursing assistants or office computer specialists. BCCC conducts the instructional program, offering basic courses in English and math before the students begin specialized training.

There is also instruction in presentation, dress, resume writing and other skills. Graduates received help in job placement through the city Office of Employment Development's Southwest Skills Center.

Eighty-two percent of last year's 78 graduates have obtained jobs, Williams said.

One of them is Ethlean Roberts, 36, who is working with children this summer at a recreation center in the city's Latrobe Homes housing project.

"I enjoy it, and the pay is good," Roberts said, but added that she wishes she could put her computer skills to more use on the job. "Right now, there are only two computers in the center, not enough to train all of the kids."

She is thinking about going back to BCCC to work toward an associate degree and hopes to save enough money to move from public housing into her own home.

The graduation ceremony's keynote speaker, Dr. Rose-Marie Toussaint, a Haitian-born surgeon and author who lives in Burtonsville, told the graduates to never lose sight of their goals.

"Challenges will come. It is part of living -- it's part of what makes us and builds our character," she said. "Never simply look at challenges as stumbling blocks, but rather as opportunities that provide us the opportunity to grow."

Pub Date: 7/30/98

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