FLINT, MI, May 25, 2017—Vanessa Terrell, clad in her blue graduation gown, stood in front of a room filled with family, friends and strangers and proclaimed her age: A “seasoned” 60 years.

“This is my first graduation,” she said proudly, pausing for a moment. “From anything.”

The room erupted in applause, and she explained why her young granddaughter was in the room.

“No matter what – no matter how many times you trip and fall, you can always turn it around,” she said. “It’s important to me that she knows that.”

Terrell was one of nine who graduated May 25 from Flint STRIVE’s north Flint initiative, a program funded by the Ruth Mott Foundation that provides a rigorous 15 days of job training to north Flint adults, including long-term unemployed, disconnected youth, recovering addicts and homeless individuals.

Seventeen people signed up for the class, and about half made it to graduation day – an indication, instructors said, of how tough the program can be.

The goal of Flint STRIVE, which is part of an international job training and placement network, is to lift families out of poverty and transform lives by providing support and skills training that lead to livable wage employment. The program is designed to address employment barriers, like education, criminal history and history of substance abuse.

The graduates ranged in age from 23 to 69 – and staff said the diversity of the group was one of its strengths in helping each other get through the program.

“Do not let your ZIP code or age or anything else define you,” Shari Walter, Lead Job Developer, told the graduates. “You guys are powerhouses – you’re achievers. And we are so proud of you.”

The intensive program includes soft skills development, career coaching, financial literacy training, completion of three employer-preferred certifications, and access to lifetime wraparound services. A case manager will provide regular contact for 24 months following graduation.

If at any time a Flint STRIVE graduate loses a job or falls on hard times, case workers follow up and provide assistance. Four of the graduates already had employment lined up as of graduation day, and STRIVE will continue to work with the others until they have jobs as well. Sixty-five percent of STRIVE graduates are placed in jobs within 30 days of graduation and 85 percent of graduates have a job within a year of completing the program.

“We’re going to make sure we’re there every step of the way to make sure they get what they need, whether it’s housing or other needs,” said Phil Walker, Director of Training and Operations, as the graduation ceremony began. “They’re going away today with a help packet to make sure they walk away empowered.”

Each of the graduates had to overcome his or her individual challenges in order to earn the certificate of completion. One woman was so shy she hardly ever spoke in front of others, the lead trainer said, and another rode her bike to class. A few others learned to shed outside associates who were poor influences or unsupportive of the new life they were trying to lead.

“This program is not easy,” Walker said. “You have to be weather tested and battle tested to get through life – and these people were here every day doing the work.”

During the graduation ceremony, graduates repeatedly referred to each other as family. Each of them thanked the trainers and other staff for helping them through the process.

“Thank you for bringing out what we already knew we had inside us,” said Jason Newman.

With the Ruth Mott Foundation grant, Flint STRIVE is still looking to recruit additional individuals in need of employment in the ZIP codes of 48503, 48504, 48505 or 48506.

For more information or to enroll, call Flint STRIVE at 810-232-5661 or visit the website.