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All you touch and all you see, Is all your life will ever be.- Pink Floyd, “Breathe”

one way sign

With many reports out there, Fort Collins seems to be: among the happiest, the best place for business, a great place to raise kids, the top place to ride bikes and have a tech startup. The list of honors and awards this town makes is vast. No doubt, this is paradise. But what about the population that is struggling to make ends meet?

In 2014 the poverty rate was reported to be at 18.3%, Nearly 7 percent of Fort Collins families live in poverty according to the Coloradoan. Currently, there is a 3% unemployment rate. In 2015, the graduation rate was 78.6 percent.

Two organizations with the same vision are taking on the issue of poverty by providing a means to an education. The Matthews House Education Employment Center (EEC), and Digital Workshop Center (DWC) are working in conjunction to provide not only lessons of life but tangible Business Certifications.

The Matthews House Education Employment Center (EEC)

The EEC strives to provide customized career planning, skill development services, and job training that will equip low-income adults with the education and workforce competencies to begin a career path at the entry-level with opportunities to advance over time, gaining greater economic stability. They provide financial assistance to keep tuition affordable, complimentary child activities on site to address two huge barriers to work/educational success: cost/availability of part-time, quality child care, and educational costs.

In 2015 the EEC served 81 adults and 5 children. Between October 1, 2015 and 5/31/2016 (Fiscal YTD) the EEC has already surpassed those numbers, serving 114 unduplicated individuals as follows: 83 students, 8 individuals receiving Career Pathways services only (no classes) and 23 children in activities (82 of that 114 – 56, 8, and 18 respectively – has been served just since January.

Digital Workshop Center (DWC)

DWC was founded in 2006 and is a certified Colorado Private Occupational School from the Colorado Department of Higher Education. DWC offers professional development and training classes on design software programs, desktop applications, business solutions and advanced computer training concepts. Just this month it became an Authorized Adobe Certified Training Center(AATC), offering certifications in graphic and web design. They are a co-working space and private offices. They strengthen the community by hosting a multitude of meetups and community events. DWC partners with local nonprofits in the area.

In 2015 approximately 16 private individuals and 20 unemployed or dislocated workers completed State-recognized certification programs to help them return to the workforce at DWC. Of these, 75% have gone on to report that they have secured part-time or full-time employment since finishing their certificate programs.

The Partnership

Contemplating getting a certificateThe goal of the program is to provide easy entry for a learner to get a certification in Business Administration. DWC will be launching a satellite location, which means all of their certified instructors and all of the textbooks and materials, will travel to the EEC location. This partnership will be a Co-branded location and classes are built for the needs of the EEC.

Jerri Schmitz is the Executive Director and Founder of The Matthews House.She spoke of the collaborative being a “strategic win-win” for both organizations; “Digital Workshop Center wanted to contribute something to the under-served in our community, nd The Matthews House sought computer training that would better serve EEC participants.”

Digital Workshop Center classes are broken down by application and skill level, empowering our students with greater flexibility of scheduling and class choice. Previous programming lumped all of the Microsoft ‘Big 4’ applications into a two-week, M-F class, and that placed a burden on participants to commit to attending without scheduling conflicts. ~ Jerri Schmitz

The format that DWC uses is hands-on and intensive. The Fundamental Business Administration Software Certification from Digital Workshop Center offers all the classes needed to provide a sound basis in the software skills needed to be successful in business administration. Each certification program allows one year to complete depending on your pace of learning and skill level; you may move as fast or as slow as you like within that time frame (many students complete certification programs within 3-4 months). There is the less daily commitment with this layout. You can take the classes depending on availability. Build your schedule from the class options provided. Balance the conflicts that arise from work, family or any other outstanding life circumstances, and still get your certification.

Dual Generational Learning

Dual generational impacts of learning can be beneficial both financially and emotionally for the families. Having kids on site with their parents allows them to see modeling that education is important.

Just a $1,000 increase in family income improved academic scores of low-income children
(Dahl and Lochner (2008) analyzed the test scores of almost 5,000 children from the National Longitudinal 7 Youth data set and found that an $1,000 increase in family income resulted in a significant increase in combined math and reading test scores. They concluded that families’ current income had a powerful effect on children’s academic achievement.)

The EEC takes a very holistic approach from the ground up. They include the youngest member of the family to the parent in the education process. They focus on empowering the family as a whole so that generations to come will reap the benefits of this program. Hopefully this not only breaks the cycle of poverty, but also frees them from patterns they may be stuck in.

Opportunities

cell phone taking a pictureLook for big things to come from this affiliation. This will give opportunities and skills to an invisible population, offering them a voice in the community. It could free someone from a destitute situation or encourage someone to explore a new career.

We are super excited about the opportunity for students to earn a Business Administration Certificate and feel that will open more doors for our students who are interested in administrative positions. The credibility and quality of training materials (licensed Microsoft books), and organization (being a state-regulated Private Occupational School) lend greater recognition to our students’ training.  ~Heather Meyer, Director of EEC

The saying goes you are only as strong as your weakest link. If there is a way to empower this group of people, it will benefit the community as a whole. It will make us all stronger.

Stu Crair, owner/instructor of DWC, hopes it will spark a willingness for some to get more education with this certificate and beyond. He says “For motivated students, they can continue advanced classes at DWC. The Matthews house has resources to support a student with as much or as little education they want to pursue.”

This means they can gain more than the basics, maybe even gain certifications beyond the Business Certification. This is merely a stepping point to open doors.

This allows us to really reach the community and help people we were never able to help before. We will be able to serve the community at the basic tech level, helping with their computer skills, which is important to me.We will have an opportunity to service population that is often being forgotten or neglected. Career training will set them up for a good path toward a career or get out of some of the unfortunate situations they are in. ~ Stu Crair, Owner/Training Manager DWC

It only takes one person to believe in you for you to make a change. Education is the real freedom and can set you assail, opening the door to your dreams. The EEC and DWC are the believers. Our community will be enriched from this development.