The new Southern Oklahoma Technology Center Work Prep Program is teaching participants to catch the proverbial fish instead of giving it to them.
A joint effort from the State Department of Human Services and Department of Career Technology Education, the program aids qualifying Temporary Assistance for Needy Families clients in preparing for and entering a career major program at SOTC.
Shannon McElroy directs the program. She takes the referrals of TANF clients who may benefit from attending SOTC. Participants spend 30 hours a week doing a combination of learning work and life skills from McElroy and attending classes at SOTC.
"The goal is to be off TANF and to have a better education," McElroy said.
McElroy helps participants, the majority of whom are single parents, with everything from finishing their General Educational Development testing to developing parenting skills to studying for acceptance into a career major program to finding local resources for housing and health care.
"If basic needs aren't being met, they can't function in the workplace," McElroy said. "It is important for them and their families to have routine, structure and stability."
So far, 22 people have been referred to the program — eight are currently participating, five were referred back to their TANF worker due to issues such as tardiness and absences, one moved to another county, three never showed up and five left because they gained an earned income that got them off of TANF.
Two steps come first whenever anyone enters the Work Prep Program — a development of long and short-term goals and the identification of barriers that caused the person to be in the situation they are in the first place.
McElroy then helps the person develop a plan to achieve the goals and avoid the barriers.
"Each student has a couple major things that happened to them. We have to remove those barriers," she said.
Student Jacquie Kelly-Walker, 26, moved to Ardmore from Texas in October. While living in Texas, she was also on TANF, before quitting the program.
"It was boring. It didn't help you do anything and didn't have a program to get into school. It was nothing more than just to give you six weeks to get a job," Kelly-Walker said.
She is the mother of four children, ages seven, five, three and two months. Moving to Ardmore has served as a fresh start for her and her children, and Kelly-Walker credits the Work Prep Program with making the start successful.
"There's not much I'd like to mention about my past," Kelly-Walker said. "This program is about having to get out of the same stuff you were in before and being able to take care of your kids."
The Work Prep Program at SOTC has now enabled Kelly-Walker, who enrolled in November, to work towards several short-term goals including earn her GED, have a vehicle, study cosmetology and get her children into quality child care.
"Shannon's a motivator, and she's good at it," Kelly-Walker said. "I though I'd come here and pass the time, but now I know this program can help me."
To address issues outside of enrolling students into career-programs, McElroy connects students the multitude of resources already located on the SOTC campus and in the area.
Kelly-Walker utilizes the math tutor at SOTC as she works on her GED. She has also received help in purchasing a car from the auto service instructor and dental work from the dental hygiene students.
In addition, she was able to get new reading glasses from Good Shepherd Clinic.
"We have access to a lot of stuff," Kelly-Walker said.
Now, Kelly-Walker is focused on completing the cosmetology program.
"I want to finish the program, get a job and get clientele," she said.