Workforce Solutions: Supplying Its Students With More Than Just an EducationMay 06, 2021 01:30PM ● By Kassidy Garland
Uplift Solutions is a nonprofit organization founded in 2009 with the mission of “Delivering entrepreneurial solutions that support underserved communities for the joy of a healthy life.” Uplift consolidated its work into two primary program areas: Workforce Solutions and Philly Food Rescue. They primarily focus on issues that are related to the Social Determinants of Health, which include food access, healthcare access, and job access.
Workforce Solutions works with a diverse population of participants. While the median age is 38 years old, the average time of imprisonment is 4.5 years, with some participants being juvenile lifers, and others spending only a night in jail. While the program currently serves about 65% men, 35% women, and a vastly African American population, the program serves any who are interested. However, these demographics change frequently along with their outreach which includes halfway houses, parole officers, and word of mouth.
The majority of the participants in the Workforce Solutions program are a product of their environment. According to one participant, moving from Germantown to Southwest Philly was a difficult transition, “I remember when I first moved to the neighborhood this guy came up to me, I was about 11, he was about 15/16, and he said ‘what school you going to?’ and I said, “I’m going to Shaw, and everybody started looking at each other and he asked me if I could fight, and I didn’t understand why he was asking me but he said I would find out very soon, and I definitely found out very soon.”
This participant was exposed to drugs and violence at an early age, even recalling the time a 12-year-old in his class dropped a pistol on the floor during the school day. He hated school and shut down because of the environment. He started playing hooky, and he and his friends started to steal people’s mail, stealing money from unlocked cars, and causing trouble on a regular basis. This same participant had a troubled home environment as well. He had a poor relationship with his stepfather and eventually left home at 15.
As a way to survive, he began robbing people and stores, as well as selling drugs. He was in and out of the system from a young age. From 19-24, he was in prison upstate. After moving from prison to prison he recalled not having any Black role models to look up to. His parole officer also gave him trouble by removing him from his church and his job.
He stated, “I had to answer this question for the parole board, ‘What are you going to do to change your environment?'” He answered: “Keep going to church, make sure that I’m employed, I’m going to exercise and make sure that I’m healthy because if I feel good and look good, I will conduct myself differently, and everything I was trying to do he (the parole officer) took away from me.”
After finding Uplift Solutions, he felt good. He started dressing like Barry [the Director of Workforce Solutions] because he had respect for him, and he wanted to conduct himself in a similar manner. “When I was coming up you didn’t have much influence to see around you, anything I saw I would try to mimic in a way that was already naturally in me. I’m not trying to be anyone, but the best version of myself using snapshots of life to help me.”
Although many of the participants are products of the negative environments they were surrounded by, some of the participants were wrongfully accused, altering the course of their lives. Another participant of the Workforce Solutions program grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, being spoiled and doted on by her family members. While at West Chester University, she decided to go to culinary school.
While pursuing her education, she was accused of manipulating a computer system to increase her pay, but she insists that she had no involvement, “I had never been in trouble, so half the stuff I was being accused of I didn’t even know what it was.”
She also described how the overall course of the trial took a significant toll on her life. Because her court case case kept getting pushed back, she was unsure of when she would be available for work, making it difficult to hold a job. She also struggled with her mental and physical health during the process, but still chose not to take a plea deal. Although she maintained her innocence, the truth never came to light, and she was given 7 years probation and had to pay restitution.
During her trial, she continued her education, making all A’s, and she participated in a lot of work in her community. She eventually graduated in only 3 years, summa cum laude.
This participant found Uplift Solutions in January of 2019. “My experience…from the day that I interviewed until now, it was an amazing experience.” When she first came in for her interview, she stepped in on a class that Miss Mo was teaching, and she immediately was excited to be a part of the program. “Every day after that, once my cohort started, the skills that Miss Mo taught us, the encouragement she gave us, meeting people who have dealt with similar situations as mine. Uplift was amazing.”
When asked about the program and it’s staff she stated, “She [Ms. Okaman-Robinson] makes you feel like a person. There was never any judgment. You could tell, she not only said it, but she showed you that she believed in you. It's not all the time that you find someone like that…she made it worth coming to every day.”
Every day Miss Mo would write a quote on the board, and the participant still has a book full of all those quotes that she uses to help her through all of the difficult times. They remind her of who she is and to keep going no matter what.
Uplift Solutions has provided more than just an education for its participants; it has supplied its students with hope for their future, pride in their work, and a strong sense of confidence in their ability to lead and grow.
This article brought to you in Partnership with Broke in Philly
Kassidy Garland has had a great appreciation for reading and writing since she was young. She graduated from West Chester University in 2017 with a Bachelor’s Degree in English & Women and Gender Studies. With a concentration in creative writing, Kassidy has 5 years of experience writing blogs, articles, and for social media. Based out of Philadelphia, Kassidy loves to write about a number of topics and looks forward to sharing her passion with those at FunTimes Magazine.
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