Once homeless, graduates learn vocational and social skills

Vocational training helped her rebuild her life, stay sober and off the streets, and engage with her three teenage daughters. She soon begins a full-time job as a babysitter at Boston Children’s Hospital, which partners with the Pine Street Inn training program.

But first, she’ll take the stage at a graduation ceremony on Thursday, giving her a sense of accomplishment she couldn’t have imagined two years ago.

“Just being in a cap and a dress will mean a lot to me,” said Thurston, who lives in a sober house in Dorchester. “It feels good to be able to finish something.”

Thursday’s graduation ceremony will be the first the Pine Street Inn has held in three years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and nearly 100 of the 260 attendees who graduated during that time could ride. on stage, organizers said. For some of them, this is the first time they have graduated. Many already work in the private sector, including in area hospitals and restaurants. Others, like Thurston, expect to start soon.

The graduation ceremony, organizers said, will serve as a long-lasting celebration for attendees as well as for a program that has been a central part of Pine Street Inn’s work to provide resources, such as job training, to those who need it most. The nonprofit organization operates housing and lodging sites and related services throughout Boston.

And in recent years, organizers said, the skills training program has taken on greater importance amid the economic and emotional toll the COVID pandemic has taken on people without homes or job skills. Many people entering the program were recently living on the streets or in shelters; some still are.

As city officials seek to address the area’s opioid and homelessness crises by providing transitional housing, social justice advocates say the workforce development training program plays an equal role in giving people the skills – and the confidence – to stay on the road to recovery.

“It involves getting their life back, through all the emotional struggles, the trauma they’ve been through; we try to help them put their lives back together,” said Lyndia Downie, president and executive director of the Pine Street Inn.

In the program, participants spend eight weeks in a classroom, learning life skills such as financial literacy and the use of digital technology. They also learn mindfulness and other skills that prepare them for life in a work environment — lessons in how to interact with co-workers and managers, and in some cases customers. They also learn how to prepare for an interview.

Then they spend up to 16 weeks as apprentices in the kitchen or housekeeping departments of the Pine Street Inn, learning practical skills for employment. Participants in the iCater Kitchen Department help prepare thousands of meals a day.

Tai Irwin, who works as one of the program’s job placement specialists, said participants went on to work in different jobs, not just housekeeping or catering. But the underlying goals of the program, including the mindfulness workshops, he said, are to equip people for success in the job market at whatever stage of life they find themselves in. .

“It builds confidence,” Irwin said, adding that many participants are in low stages of life, for various reasons, and may suffer from emotional trauma.

Lorie L. Spencer, program manager at the Beth Israel Lahey Clinic, said her organization has hired three people from the program since forming a relationship with Pine Street just over two years ago; two of them work in food services and one as an administrative assistant.

Each of them, she said, was well-trained for the positions, despite work histories (or lack thereof) that would normally have complicated their job searches. And they are dedicated, she says.

“We want people to be prepared and dedicated to the job, and I think these are some of the most dedicated people to hire,” she said, “because of what the job means to them.”

Among this year’s graduates are Eugene Perkins, 60, who recently moved into a two-bedroom apartment in Dorchester after several years on the streets. He struggled with drug addiction and alcoholism after his wife died in 2015. “I got off the grid,” he said.

Perkins said he had previously completed vocational training programs and obtained certifications to work in cosmetology and as a nurse’s assistant. But the Pine Street program served a different purpose, helping him get his life back on track, particularly the mindfulness program, he said. He will soon complete the apprenticeship program and hopes to land a job that will give him a sense of stability.

“When you have a job, you have freedom,” he said. “It makes me feel like I’m contributing to society. It gives me the impression of living, instead of existing.

Taisha O’Bryant, 45, discovered a passion for cooking through her work in the program. On Thursday, she will be the keynote speaker.

She has lived on the streets and in shelters since she was 10, she said. O’Bryant described the difficulty of raising his siblings after his mother’s death, watching them die as adults, and raising his own children. Recently, a housing coordinator she works with referred her to the program.

One recent morning, she went to a job interview for a job as a cook at a new sushi restaurant in the Seaport District. “I was on time, 9 a.m.,” she boasted. At the end of the interview, he was offered the job. It starts next week.

Milton J. Valencia can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia and on Instagram @miltonvalencia617.

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