Valley Works: Learn-2-Earn initiative

FRESNO, Claif.

Twenty-seven percent of Fresno County residents don't have a high school diploma. The mayors Learn-2-Earn initiative is bridging the gap. The 16-month-old program aims to help Valley residents earn their GED and so far has produced 150 graduates. Those going through the program are gaining more than an education.

Forty-seven-year-old Dale Briscoe felt confident as he checked out the job opportunities presented by a group of employers. A year ago Briscoe lacked a basic qualification to apply for certain jobs. The former professional hockey player had never finished high school; last August Valley Works followed Briscoe as he began his journey to get his GED with help from the Learn-2-Earn program

"Going to school was very intimidating, once I got in the classroom I just loved it I excelled," Briscoe said.

He earned his GED in six months and then enrolled in a career college to become a phlebotomist. Briscoe passed his state exam in April and is going through the licensing process.

"The whole thing took about eight months to get everything done but it was a great journey," Briscoe said.

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin says success stories like Dales are what Learn-2-Earn is all about. Swearengin sees the lack of an educated and trained workforce as a major issue for the city. Figures show that an estimated 70,000 people in Fresno alone don't have a high school diploma. The mayor launched the Learn-2-Earn initiative last April as a way to address the problem.

"Education is the number one driver of our local economy, so if we can get people back into school and get them some basic training to be eligible for the jobs that exist that helps create that economic cycle more jobs get created," Swearengin said.

Swearengin continues to make the initiative a top priority, showing up at events to thank the community partners she says make the program work. Schools and employers say they are ready to hire those who complete their education and training.

"We try to attend as many events as possible to get the word out about our opportunities," Korinna Pedrosa with Fresno EOC said.

But to be prepared for those opportunities you must take that first step, just like Briscoe did and he says you won't have to do it alone.

"That's the thing about Learn-2-Earn they support and help you to go back to school and continue on with your education," Briscoe said.

The Learn-2-Earn program has reached out to more than 1,800 people and 40 percent of them are now enrolled in an educational program, many of them continuing beyond high school.

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