Breaking down barriers to access

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Bank of America grant boosts Clark’s instructor training to help the neediest

Garret Ward, 48, was a carpenter for 25 years before he got laid off in 2009. A few months later, he hurt his back. Unable to work and living in Las Vegas at the time, he scrapped by on unemployment for a few years. A divorce and a move to Washougal, Wash., to be near family put him further into debt. With no job prospects, Ward sought help from local social service agencies and was advised to go back to school for his GED. He landed at Clark College and found his way to the Pathways Center, a workforce training and adult transitional studies program.

It saved his life, literally.

Last June, Ward graduated with his GED and proudly marched in the commencement ceremony. Now, he’s taking courses for a small business management certificate with hopes of one day operating his own solar panel cleaning business. He says he could not have reached these goals without the personalized attention he received from Clark’s Pathways Center staff.

“You are on a first-name basis there. They are so personable and they care,” he said, adding, “I don’t know where I’d be if it weren’t for the staff.”

Finding and navigating education, as well as social services, is often the hurdle many community members face when they are in need or in crisis. In an effort to reduce the barriers to education and social services, Bank of America donated $20,000 to provide training for Clark College instructors and local community partners. The one-time training session for 50 staff members will ensure Clark College and local agencies work in unison to boost access to services.

The goal of the grant is to assist people, who live in poverty, to become self-sufficient by attaining education and jobs. The project is called “From Poverty to Self-sufficiency through Education and Employment.”

Clark College provides a plethora of opportunities to students who otherwise might not have access to education.

“Since 44 percent of Clark students are low-income and first-generation college students this initiative is central to our campus,” said Lisa Gibert, president/CEO, Clark College Foundation. “Teaching skills on how to use a search engine, navigate and access transportation and steps in applying for financial aid or scholarships are just a few of the countless areas we can help students become self-reliant.”

The partners in the project are Clark College Foundation, Clark College—its WorkFirst and Career Pathways unit—WorkSource (Vancouver, White Salmon and Stevenson), Vancouver Housing Authority and Partners in Careers a job-training service in Vancouver. The three major regions served are Clark, Skamania and Klickitat counties.

“We’re helping people in Southwest Washington access the resources they use to land a job or enroll in higher education,” said Christine Sanford, consumer market manager for Bank of America. “Bank of America is enabling individuals to access valuable services and programs to prepare for a more financially stable future.”

Training will be conducted by Tigard, Oregon-based Communication Across Barriers using a model called Opportunity Community. The model defines the real causes of poverty and serves individuals who live in different types of poverty, provides training resources for community professionals and provides structures to help people get out of poverty and prosper.

For Ward, the Clark’s Pathways Center student, the connection is deeply personal. He hadn’t been feeling well for some time last year and after a stern prompting from a Clark staff member, he went to the doctor. His diagnosis? Colon cancer. Following a successful surgery, there is no evidence of cancer.

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