In a first-of-its-kind partnership, Great Bay Community College is bringing the career-building professional development program WorkReadyNH to residents of Lydia’s House of Hope in Somersworth, a transitional housing program for homeless women and children.
The first group of residents of Lydia’s House of Hope to participate recently graduated from the program, each earning three professional credentials that certify their skills and readiness to join the workforce. All have landed jobs and are using skills they learned through WorkReadyNH in their employment.
“This class is going to have a long-term impact on the lives of these women,” said Jenny Beach,
Program coordinator at Lydia’s House of Hope. “The communication skills and the soft skills they learned through this program are skills they will use the rest of their lives, both in the workplace and in their personal lives.”
WorkReadyNH is a tuition-free professional skills program designed to meet the needs of job seekers and career builders by providing training in a range of skills that employers value in current and future employees, including such soft skills as effective communication, team building, problem solving, and decision making, as well as the essential skills of adequate levels of reading, math, and information literacy.
For the recent cohort of graduates, those skills also included a new-found sense of self-confidence. They learned how to write a resume, how to prepare for a job interview, and how to carry themselves with confidence.
As a capstone project, the students worked together to create mock companies and designed imaginary products for the marketplace. One team presented a manufacturing and marketing plan around a computerized showering system that could be programmed and tailored to a user’s personal preferences. The other designed a body blanket manufactured with materials to retain the scent of a loved one.
“They had to be really creative and do something they had never done before,” Beach said. “A lot of these women have work gaps, where they either had children and have not worked in a long time, or they have worked in a fast-food restaurant and do not have the confidence to do more than that. WorkReadyNH gives them confidence.”
In addition to the entire population of Lydia’s House of Hope, Great Bay president Dr. Cheryl Lesser attended the capstone presentations. She said she was impressed with the quality of the research and comprehensive nature of the students’ work. “Working with Lydia’s House of Hope is a way for GBCC to meet the mission, serving the citizens of NH and helping to provide a prepared workforce. Having seen the presentations of the graduates, I am sure the women, who graduated from the program, will be an asset to anyone who hires them.”
WorkReadyNH has worked diligently across the state to create partnerships with nonprofit organizations, but this was WorkReadyNH’s first on-site program serving a residential population, said Angela Kalampalikis, WorkReadyNH’s statewide director. The partnership with Lydia’s House of Hope could serve as a pilot for other similar collaborations. “We hope to continue this partnership and expand to other homes,” she said. “This is exactly where we need to be.”
Lydia’s House of Hope is a 365-day transitional housing program for homeless women and children that provides opportunities to transform lives and break the generational cycle of homelessness and poverty.
Kara Flynn, Program Assistant for WorkReadyNH at Great Bay Community College, agreed that this partnership holds great promise. “The two words that come to mind are ‘community’ and ‘connection.’ We are connecting with our community and our community is connecting with us and all the resources we can offer. To establish a relationship of trust with the women at Lydia’s House of Hope allows us to take the next step more confidently. We don’t want to be an island. We want to be a bridge that connects people with resources.”
Dawn Hamdi, WorkReadyNH Director at Great Bay Community College, said the college plans to offer the program to a second cohort of residents at Lydia’s House of Hope in January. “We want to be an integral part of their program to make sure everybody gets over the finish line. This is just the start, and this is something we hope can be ongoing. We will keep rolling it out.”
In completing the course, the students received three certificates that highlight their value as an employee and colleague: a WorkReadyNH Soft Skills Digital Badge from the Community College System of NH; a National Career Readiness Certificate from ACT; and a WorkReadyNH Certificate from the Community College System of NH.
Instructor Kemetia Foley said she enjoyed teaching this group of students. Witnessing them present their capstone projects “made my heart very happy. It was very rewarding,” she said. “It was a great opportunity for me to work with these women, to get perspective on where they have been and what it has been like for them and where they are going and what it is going to be like.”
Theresa Tozier, founder and director of Seeds of Faith Ministries that operates Lydia’s House of Hope, said she was gratified by the success of the WorkReadyNH pilot project and the level of support for the program by all involved.
“We have amazing women in this house, and they just need the opportunity to succeed. When they did their presentations, I was like a proud mama. WorkReadyNH helped them tap into an inner place they didn’t know they had. They are no longer running and carrying the weight of the world. They can let go of that weight.”