VHA program offers education, motivation

Published 11:41 am Wednesday, June 1, 2011

After being out of work for a year, Angela Harris has a GED and a job, thanks to a new career development program at the Vicksburg Housing Authority.

Harris, a 39-year-old mother of three and grandmother of 11, is one of about 80 people living in the housing authority to take advantage of the program that organizers say is giving hope to people who face challenges.

“Angela just needed some wind back in her sail,” said the Rev. Manny Murphy, program coordinator. “The program was her motivation. She’s committed to it.”

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VHA’s board of directors voted last year to hire Johnson Counseling Associates, for one year at $25,000, to implement a program offering career skills and professional development. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development mandates that recipients of HUD money provide job training and employment opportunities for low- or very low-income residents.

“The basis for this program was to fulfill our mission,” VHA Executive Director Dannie Walker said. “Our mission is to provide economic opportunities for our residents to obtain self-sufficiency.”

Jobs are not guaranteed, Walker said, but access to a computer, interview coaching, workshops and job placement opportunities are provided. Contract renewal depends on the program’s success and the number of people it serves, he said.

The number of unemployed residents at VHA’s six subdivisions is unknown. About a third receive income through Social Security and Supplemental Security Income. VHA residents earn about 80 percent less than the median income in the area, which is around $56,000, Walker said.

Residents who find jobs and earn income over that figure are not required to move from VHA properties because their income is based on what it was at their move-in date, he said.

On Thursday, the VHA kicked off its GED program with Hinds Community College as its sponsor.

“We find that people have had economic problems,” said Dr. Eldridge Henderson, director of adult education at Hinds’ main campus at Raymond. “We know if they get that GED, their lives can change.”

As a sponsor, Hinds offers books, workshops and scholarships. Also, Hinds will pay the $40 for an enrollee to take the GED exam, as well as offer a scholarship of one free class for those who pass, Henderson said.

Also part of the VHA program is a free, six-week health and nutrition initiative led by local gym owner Linda Fondren, who has been recognized locally and nationally for her efforts to fight obesity.

Midway through the career development program, Murphy said, he was able to place 18 applicants, including Harris, who found work at McDonald’s soon after she signed up in January. She’s been offered a management position.

“I found a great job,” said Harris, whose life was thrown off track when she became pregnant at 14 and dropped out of high school. “I like to be at work 30 or 40 minutes before it’s time for me to come in.”

Manager LaTosha Galloway said Harris is a “great employee.”

“She’s always here on time. She comes in early,” Galloway said. “She learned everything fast, from the front to the back. She knows the store like she’s been working here for years.”

Harris plans to test soon for her GED diploma and work toward opening her own business.

“In 10 years, I want to run my own restaurant,” she said. “I can cook. I can do it all.”