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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA / A news summary | The Local Review

Scholarship Program Offers Tools to Craft Careers

March 09, 2000|BOBBY CUZA

LOS ANGELES — For 44-year-old Melida Sanchez, the city's Trade-Technical College represented a last lease on life.

Turned away by other schools and employers who were turned off by her lengthy rap sheet--and her proclivity for tattoos--Sanchez enrolled in Trade-Tech's cosmetology program, hoping to turn her life around.

Now only two months from receiving her degree, Sanchez was one of 21 Trade-Tech students awarded a scholarship Wednesday as part of the Tools for Success program. Sponsored by Miller Brewing Co., the program rewards vocational students, not with money toward tuition, but with the actual tools and equipment needed to launch their careers.

"I can see myself doing things I never thought I could do," said Sanchez, whose scholarship will take the shape of toolbox containing clippers, blades, scissors, a hair dryer and a curling iron. "It's going to help me get started."

Victor Franco, community affairs manager for Miller, said he created the unconventional program in 1992 after learning that many vocational students work two jobs for up to two years after graduation to save money for supplies.

Recipients often come from rough-and-tumble backgrounds. Many can't afford the expensive tools of their trade, such as $1,500 oscilloscopes or $500 digital amp-meters.

It wasn't long ago that Sanchez couldn't afford so much as a bed. For about five years, she lived on the streets of Los Angeles, battling drug addiction. "It was awful," she said. "I lived in an alley, by a trash can."

Sanchez said she has been in and out of prison for 20 years, mostly on burglary and drug possession charges. Then she discovered Trade-Tech in the yellow pages.

"I told them I had been in prison and I had tattoos," Sanchez said. "They said 'It's OK, come in and do the paperwork.' "

Sanchez, who had only a seventh-grade education, enrolled in cosmetology, her mother's and sister's chosen profession. In three semesters, she has earned straight A's. After graduating, Sanchez plans to help out at the salon operated by her sister, who is losing sight in one eye, and eventually open a beauty salon and supply store of her own.

Administrators boast a 92% employment rate among past recipients in the 11 cities in which Tools for Success operates, in vocations ranging from carpentry to plumbing to culinary arts. More than 30 recipients have gone on to open their own businesses.

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