Single mother Sasha Moore, 27, of Rock Hill wants to be a registered nurse. The North Carolina Central University graduate didn’t want to venture too far from her degree in the health sciences field, but knew she would have to go back to school to fulfill her dream.
Being an RN, Moore said, would provide a stable income to support herself, her daughter and the twins she’s expecting this summer. But paying for college tuition and child care was out of reach for Moore until she won the lottery – the Project Hope lottery, that is.
About the program
Project Hope is a South Carolina grant program started in 2010 to fund education and training for low-income residents to pursue one of 13 careers in healthcare, including medical laboratory technician, dental assistant, medical records technician and phlebotomist.
With the aging baby boomer population, healthcare jobs are in high demand, often with many more openings than there are qualified people to fill them, said Project Hope regional coordinator Rhonda Ginn. The jobs written in the grant were chosen because “there’s a need,” and because of growth projections, Ginn said.
Participants receive funding for tuition to a tech school, textbooks, a laptop, school supplies, scrub uniforms, medical screenings and certification exams. Childcare, tutoring and transportation assistance also are available.
The target population includes individuals who are receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, foster youth who are aging out of the system and low income veterans, Catawba Indians and residents with household incomes less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
“Because South Carolina is a relatively poor state, the low-income factor is a lot of South Carolinians,” Ginn said.
The application process is open to U.S. citizens and South Carolina residents who are at least 18 years old. A high school diploma or GED is required for the traditional program. If applicants have neither, Project Hope staff will help applicants get their GED. There is no age limit for participation in the program.
There is one catch, however.
Acceptance into the program is lottery based. About 68 percent of applicants get approved, Ginn said.
The grant - funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families and administered through the S.C. Department of Social Services Division of Family Assistance - is up for renewal every five years.
“This is essentially a human study. If the control group can find funding and get a job in healthcare just as easily as the group that gets in, then why is Project Hope even valid?” Ginn said.
It wasn’t clear at press time if the program is targeted in the massive reduction in domestic spending reflected in President Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget. Kailiah Thomas, a program specialist with the Office of Family Assistance at HHSA, said she did not know. White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney, the former 5th Congressional District representative from Indian Land, could not immediately be reached.
The biggest obstacle Project Hope has faced is recruitment, Ginn said.
The program can take up to 18 students per session, but has never had more than five. The first session had one.
“It’s hard to give away free money,” she said.
Participants must pass a drug screening and background check, which eliminates many potential students, Ginn said.
There also are stringent guidelines on truancy . Students can miss only two classes during the initial full-time five-week boot camp. A week of job shadowing is required, students must provide a PowerPoint presentation and pass a final exam.
“We would need about 50 applications (per session) to get the number we need,” she said.
Students who go through boot camp together often become like a family, Ginn said, as they share their struggles and triumphs with one another. Boot camp graduates , many of whom are parents working third shift, are proud of taking the first step to self-sufficiency. Graduates receive a completion certificateat the end of the five-week period.
“In the real world that doesn’t mean much, but to us that means a heck of a lot,” Ginn said.
After boot camp graduation, money is funneled to a technical school for students to begin coursework.
“That’s the ultimate goal – we can place someone in a job they can sustain and live comfortably,” Ginn said. “You have to be dedicated, and have the want and drive to do it.”
Jerrod Settles, a career counselor for Project Hope since 2015, called the program a “life-changing experience.”
“It’s giving people a chance,” Settles said. “College is expensive. Project Hope is a way for them to reach their dreams.”
Students’ belief in themselves and their potential often changes in boot camp, he said.
“You can see a change in them,” Settles said. “They have more confidence to speak out.”
Moore is now employed as a Project Hope recruiter while working toward her goal of becoming a pediatric nurse. She recently completed a Certified Nursing Assistant class and will begin night classes at York Technical College in August, around the time she is due to give birth to her twins.
Moore said she enjoyed the camaraderie between the Project Hope students.
“Most of the girls had children and were also single parents,” she said. “I was able to meet people who were going through the same issues as I was.”
Moore said she is grateful for the doors Project Hope has opened for her.
“That was the most important thing for me – to find a career path centered around my daughter and her needs,” Moore said. “That was the struggle for the other moms as well – to find a career that provided for their families’ needs.”
Students who persevere through the program see the fruits of their labor, Settles said.
“It’s not easy , but once they make it through it’s a great thing,” he said. “They can see that dream they had for themselves becoming a reality.”
Kelly Lessard: firstname.lastname@example.org, @KellyLessardFMT