Goodwill program expands, moves to city

Organization hopes to attract more students

May 04, 2000|By Nora Koch | Nora Koch,SUN STAFF

For most, a layoff from a job is not a lucky break.

But for Brenda Johnson, 34, a former city school teacher and college lecturer who became dependent on unemployment checks in October, losing her administrative assistant post has proven fortuitous.

"Not too many people who are not completely happy in their career have the time and leisure to sit down and really think, `What do I want to do now?' without the pressure of having to go to work," said Johnson, who taught middle school for a year and became an adjunct lecturer in English at Coppin State College.

Johnson, who holds a master's degree in African-American studies from University of Maryland, Baltimore County, is studying computer and clerical skills at Goodwill's downtown headquarters and preparing to start a job as a librarian this month.

She is one of 11 students learning everything from turning on the computer to navigating the World Wide Web for four hours Monday through Thursday in the computer lab at the building, which opened last week in the 200 block of Redwood St. A ribbon cutting ceremony was held yesterday.

The computer course and classes in hospitality services, retail sales, custodial services and health care are offered in Goodwill's work force development program. Goodwill officials hope the $3.5 million building will double their clientele and help provide a large labor pool for local business. This year, 927 people have enrolled in the program.

Until last week, Johnson made a two-hour, three-bus trek to Arbutus, where Goodwill was stationed for 30 years. Her commute has dwindled to a half hour from her West Baltimore home. Like Johnson, three-fourths of the program's clientele live in the city.

Classes also are offered at 13 other Goodwill offices in the city and Baltimore County and Annapolis and Salisbury.

In three to six months, students learn basic career skills, study one of the five disciplines, and finish the program with an internship or full-time job.

Johnson is not scheduled to complete the program until August, but she will start work as a Baltimore County librarian May 22.

Goodwill placed 1,212 people in permanent jobs last year.

Veronica Knight first sat in front of a computer her first day of class in March. The West Baltimore mother of two was laid off in November from her job packing greeting cards. When the company called last month offering more work, Knight turned it down.

She'll finish the Goodwill class in September and expects to find work in data entry or as a receptionist. "All I hear is computers and I want to be on one, too," Knight said.

Teacher Stephanie Pinkston gets teary as she glances over a list of about 250 former students she's had in three years teaching computer and clerical skills. She says 98 percent of her students get jobs before their class is finished.

When students begin, teachers sit down with them to outline their goals. Pinkston tailors her curriculum to the students. Before Johnson started class, Pinkston checked the classified ads to find what skills employers were looking for in librarians and developed a curriculum that would meet Johnson's needs and abilities.

"It's not based on a textbook, it's hands-on," Johnson said. "Even if you come in with zero skills, you can get out and get a job."

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