Non­profit teaches skills, changes lives

JobTrain pro­vides low­in­come youths, adults with train­ing pro­grams

The Mercury News Weekend - - LOCAL NEWS - By Ja­son Green ja­son.green@ba­yare­anews­group.com

MENLO PARK » From the be­gin­ning, the cards were stacked against Alexan­dra Pol­lich.

Her Ger­man-born fa­ther was de­ported for il­le­gal busi­ness deal­ings when she was 7 years old. Her mother, who had never worked, turned to drugs to cope and the fam­ily bounced be­tween home­less shel­ters and ho­tel rooms, never know­ing when the next meal might come.

“It was bad,” said Pol­lich, now 22.

Things are much bet­ter these days and she has since re­al­ized her dream of work­ing in the med­i­cal field thanks in part to JobTrain, a Menlo Park-based non­profit agency that pro­vides low- in­come youths and adults in San Ma­teo and Santa Clara coun­ties with ac­cred­ited ca­reer train­ing pro­grams, es­sen­tial life skills train­ing and sup­port ser­vices.

Pol­lich, who grad­u­ated from the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s med­i­cal as­sist­ing pro­gram last year, is cur­rently work­ing full-time as amed­i­cal as­sis­tant at Kaiser Per­ma­nente in Red­wood City.

“I’m happy,” she said. “I love what I do.”

Her path to the present was rocky. On her 11th birth­day, she was placed in foster care. Then, as a 15- year- old fresh­man, she got preg­nant and was forced to at­tend a con­tin­u­a­tion school.

Pol­lich, who moved in with her baby’s fa­ther and later mar­ried him, man­aged to fin­ish school a year early and even landed a job as a lab­o­ra­tory tech­ni­cian at an orthodon­tist of­fice. But the work was lonely and low-pay­ing — far from the ca­reer she had en­vi­sioned.

She re­signed and en­rolled in a med­i­cal as­sist­ing pro­gra­mat a lo­cal com­mu­nity col­lege, but it didn’t work out for a num­ber of rea­sons, one of them be­ing her mother’s re­scinded prom­ise to help her make ends meet un­til she com­pleted her school­ing.

Pol­lich ap­peared to have run out of op­tions, but friends sug­gested check­ing out JobTrain.

Last year, 83 per­cent of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s grad­u­ates ob­tained high- qual­ity jobs, and 12 months af- ter be­ing hired, 85 per­cent are still work­ing and many have been pro­moted, ac­cord­ing to Lois Mar­shal­lWard, a se­nior devel­op­ment of­fi­cer with JobTrain.

Pol­lich is among JobTrain’s suc­cess sto­ries. She en­rolled in the 16-week med­i­cal as­sist­ing pro­gram in Fe­bru­ary 2016. A re­lated 160-hour ex­tern­ship at Kaiser Per­ma­nente in Red­wood City ul­ti­mately led to a well-pay­ing po­si­tion six months later.

“It’s a place of pos­si­bil­i­ties,” said Hayam Demian, Pol­lich’s for­mer­med­i­cal as­sist­ing pro­gramin­struc­tor. Demian now serves as the non­profit’s di­rec­tor of in­struc­tion and ca­reer devel­op­ment.

Thanks to the new job, Pol­lich said she was able to move her fam­ily out of a cramped stu­dio apart­ment in Red­wood City and into a two-bed­room apart­ment in Bel­mont.

“I would’ve never been where I am now if it wasn’t for JobTrain,” she said. “I prob­a­bly would have still been work­ing at the or­thodon­tic of­fice mak­ing $10 an hour.”

What’smore, Pol­lich said she now looks for­ward to work.

“You meet a lot of dif­fer-

“I would’ve never been where I am­now if it­wasn’t for JobTrain.” — Alexan­dra Pol­lich, JobTrain grad­u­ate

ent pa­tients,” said Pol­lich, who as a lab­o­ra­tory tech­ni­cian at the orthodon­tist of­fice was rel­e­gated to ster­il­iz­ing equip­ment by her­self in a back room. “Even though you’re a med­i­cal as­sis­tant, they re­mem­ber your name. It feels nice.”

Pol­lich has other rea­sons to cel­e­brate. She re­cently re­con­nected with her fa­ther, who is now “mak­ing money the right way” in his home coun­try and even pro­vided her fam­ily with fi­nan­cial sup­port while she at­tended the med­i­cal as­sist­ing pro­gram at JobTrain.

Be­cause 95 per­cent of its clients are low-in­come or ex­tremely low-in­come, JobTrain doesn’t charge for its pro­grams, train­ing or ser­vices. The non­profit in­stead de­pends heav­ily on donations. Through Wish Book this year, it hopes to raise $6,500, which will be used to pay for trans­porta­tion passes, work uni­forms and text­books for 150 stu­dents.

Pol­lich said she would rec­om­mend JobTrain to any­one who finds them­selves in a sit­u­a­tion sim­i­lar to hers.

“If it changed my life,” she said, “it can change some­one else’s.”

PA­TRICK TEHAN — STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Alexan­dra Pol­lich is a grad­u­ate in JobTrain’s med­i­cal as­sis­tant pro­gram and now works at Kaiser.

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