A few months ago, Jefferson McFadden's mirror looked back at him. The guy looking at him was dealing with probation from a court conviction. He had no job, and little or no chance to get a job. He had never used a computer. At 39, McFadden was close to unemployable.
But tonight, at a little church on Annafrel Street, filled with people just like him and a handful of people who believed he could succeed, McFadden will speak to that group. He will stand tall and say, "I changed. I'm not where I want to be, but I ain't where I used to be."
He will hope, from somewhere, that money can be found to help the next group of people who were so close to the bottom of the barrel that they could see the muck on the barrelboards.
"I have a second chance," McFadden said. "I got that chance because somebody showed me that if I wanted to do better in life, they would help me out."
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But only if McFadden and the others helped themselves.
The graduation is not from any school, but from a one-year federally funded program at Carolina Community Actions for male non-violent ex-offenders. Of the 23 people who started the program, 17 finished, said Nona Grant, case manager at the Rock Hill agency that administers federal programs. Grant taught the men in five-week blocks. Classes were three times a week for three hours, covering everything from how to fill out online job applications in this new job world of computers to computer training itself. The men were taught the basics of finding and keeping a job, from how to shake a hand in an interview to dealing with job stress and even a rotten boss.
No gifts, no handouts, just the basic foot-in-the-door skills that men need to get a job and keep one.
"What we did was remove barriers," Grant said. "We stressed easy money doesn't exist in the real world. It takes real work."
The $64,000 in federal money for the program seems like a lot -- until you remember that it costs as much as $40,000 a year of your tax money to feed, clothe and house somebody in jail. The goal of having 20 people enroll was surpassed with 23 men giving the job skills program a shot. The goal of 10 graduates was bettered by seven, and eight men earned General Equivalency Diplomas that mean forever each will be a high school graduate. More than half found at least part-time jobs, and eight of those lasted more than 90 days on jobs.
The program didn't expect total success -- and it didn't get feathers in every cap, either. Of the 23 people who showed up, seven landed back in jail, Grant said.
Yet, the Rev. Seth Crosby of TLC Ministries, who provided the space for the training at his Annafrel Street church and handled much of the life counseling for the men, said the successes overshadow the dropout rate.
"This program made a difference in people's lives," Crosby said. "Men have work."
With work comes dignity, and the ability to pay the child support, rent, court fines and restitution.
All the men in the program were either on probation or parole. Yet, completion helps give all of them a chance to do what probation and parole requires: Stay out of trouble and have a stable place to live. Yet, the program was just for one year. Even with what appears to be success, no money is lined up for next year, said Walter Kellogg, executive director of Carolina Community Actions, but staff is looking at ways to keep the ball rolling.
But until money is found, Jefferson McFadden works for a living and is rightfully proud of it. He's going to speak tonight and tell people the money must be found. He'll talk about work. He will show that he is nobody's burden -- and that this job skills program helped get him there.
"I'll share my story," McFadden said. "Because I want other people to get the same chance I got."
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The Carolina Community Actions graduation ceremony for nonviolent ex-offenders who finished skills training, called a "Conquering Life Ceremony," is at 7 tonight at TLC Ministries, 641 Annafrel St., Rock Hill.
To learn more about this program or others CCA provides, call 329-5197.