Program Helps People Transition from Public Assistance to Careers

October 21, 2011
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Karche Bass looks proudly at the new crop of graduates receiving their diplomas at UCSF's Parnassus campus. A year ago, she was exactly where many of them are today: relying on government assistance or living homeless.

"I was unemployed and a single mom. I was really looking for work but I just couldn't get it right," said Bass, 23, who graduated from the UCSF-sponsored Community Outreach Internship Program (COIP) last year. "A lot of things I started, I barely finished because of life obstacles in the way. But when I finished the COIP program, I said, ‘I got this experience. I got this education; I'm going to put it to work.'"

And she did exactly that. Bass now works as an analyst for the UCSF Human Resources department. She was part of the 2010 COIP class, a partnership between UCSF and Jewish Vocational Service (JVS). This program provides unemployed parents from underserved San Francisco communities training and work experience to prepare them for today's competitive job market and to become self-sufficient.

"UCSF is committed to creating economic opportunities for the San Francisco community," said Barbara J. French, vice chancellor for University Relations at UCSF. "COIP has proven to be a particularly effective model because of its success in providing long-standing employment and career benefits while also helping UCSF develop a well-trained and diverse workforce."

COIP ran successfully from 1999 to 2006, graduating 100 participants and placing 85 percent of them into jobs at UCSF. After a hiatus, in 2010, the program was revived by UCSF and JVS in recognition of the potential match between the high demand for administrative workers and high poverty and unemployment in some San Francisco neighborhoods.

Last Friday, 18 women and one man received their diplomas, taking a step closer to their goal of getting a full-time job.

"This diploma means I can do anything," said Paula Alexander, one of this year's graduates. "I learned how to be independent and how to stay motivated. This was the first time I was on welfare and the money was not a lot, so things were very difficult but I stuck with it."

The 46-year-old mother of a teenage daughter got laid off in 2007, and had been struggling since then to make ends meet. She heard about COIP through a representative at the Human Services Agency of San Francisco.

"I just joined. I went and said, ‘I wanted to do this,'" Alexander said. "So basically that's what I did. I filled out the application that very second and gave it to them. I was fortunate to get picked. I prayed on it, actually."

Alexander had been on her own since she was 16. After her unemployment insurance ran out, she was evicted from her apartment in 2009. Alexander and her daughter moved into her mother's house, a place she hasn't been in 30 years.

"It was really a challenge," Alexander said. "I'm grateful for my mom who helped by taking my daughter to school and things like that, but it was very challenging because I was always used to working and taking care of her by myself."

Alexander and her classmates kept each other motivated through the rigorous five-month training program.

"It was stressful," she said. "If someone wasn't there, we were always concerned about where they are and if they're okay because we knew we were limited in the number of days we could miss."

This camaraderie seems to be a serendipitous by-product of the COIP program.

"We all looked out for each other, like making sure we were there on time, making sure we were there period," Bass said. "I was reminded of all the training we went through by looking at the new graduates here who are going through what we went through this time last year."

Graduating from COIP does not necessarily guarantee employment. It places 85 percent of graduates into jobs at UCSF. As of 2005, 62 percent of COIP graduates advanced to administrative assistant II roles from clerk positions; and 26 percent advanced to administrative assistant III positions at UCSF.

"In the beginning I thought I could get a job immediately, but I realized it's something you have to earn," Bass said. "You can't assume it will be handed to you. You have to learn to do it yourself."

As Bass scans around the room, she sees a sea of people with enthusiasm and hope, emotions she felt a year ago upon her own graduation.

"I want to remember that I came from that, and I can be an inspiration because I started from this internship and I'm currently working in a full-time position," she said. "It is a hard thing and I don't want to say that it's easy but then you have to work at it and be persistent. You can't just go through the program, and say this is where I stop. You have to continue. That's what I did and that's what I would want to tell future COIP participants."

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