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Commentary | VOICES / A FORUM FOR COMMUNITY ISSUES

Going the Distance Requires a Helping Hand

April 20, 2002|SONIA COLE | Sonia Cole lives in South-Central Los Angeles. For program information, call Jennifer Tucker at (323) 223-1211, ext. 2335.

When I first came through the doors of Goodwill Industries in December 1999, I was futureless, jobless and hopeless. I never thought I would have a career in anything, especially not in banking.

I never knew there were people in the world who sincerely cared enough to help the underprivileged and disadvantaged become productive members of not only the work force but of the community.

I was a recovering drug addict with a ninth-grade education and no job experience. Goodwill Industries did not give me weird looks or whisper behind my back. When they discovered that I had a criminal record as a result of my substance abuse, they did not slap a mop in my hand and say, "That's the best we can do for you." Instead, they gave me confidence and trust. They encouraged me to enroll in a GED preparation course; I received my high school diploma in June 2000.

I attended a job development class while working as a retail clerk at one of the Goodwill stores in downtown Los Angeles. I would be at the train station by 6 a.m. and come home at 8 p.m. It was quite a relief when I finally did land a 9-to-5 job.

I was hired as a direct banking associate, where I provide customer service for retail sales and accounts and assist in the loan support area.

When I was chosen to participate in the "Go the Distance" Learning Project (an online training course taken on a computer placed in the participant's home), I was floored. Not only did I have a successful and promising career, but with acceptance into this program I also now had an opportunity to advance that career.

I took the supervision/management course and learned how to become a leader, monitor and spokesperson for my associates. I've learned how to communicate with individuals and meet their needs without bending too far, how to deal with personalities with professionalism and not to take things personally; how to maintain a business focus without being a complete drone. These skills are an essential part of my growth at my present job.

I've learned what part I play in the growth and development of the company, how important it is to be a team player.

I found this course to be not only interesting, useful and fun, but time-manageable, which was very important for the participants who work, go to school and maintain a household.

I am now seriously considering starting to go for a degree in business management in the next few months.

"Go the Distance" has participants who have fallen victim to circumstance, such as women whose husbands left them or died, pushing them into the work force to become the sole provider for the family for the first time. Others are single parents trying to develop skills to better support their household.

The program has encouraged me to strive for a positive life regardless of what others may say or do to discourage me. I've learned there are no life experiences or obstacles that can't be overcome; no boundaries, odds or statistics that can't be beaten as long as we are willing to work very hard.

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