MCOE, probation department Partner for Phoenix Project
A collaborative project between the Merced County Office of Education and the county’s probation department is giving participants a new chance to live productive lives and contribute to society.
Dubbed “the Phoenix Project,” a dozen graduates have completed the voluntary training program and eight of them have already found jobs.
“Research has shown how the dignity of a job and employment is a proven factor helping people not return to crime. People who have not been successful yet are getting a feeling they are smart and just need an opportunity to demonstrate they are smart,” said Holly Newlon, MCOE director of educational services.
Toula Moua-Eccles, a career educator with the Educational Services office at MCOE, also is encouraged by the program’s early success and called the program “life-changing.”
Jeff Kettering, the county’s chief probation officer, praised the program.
“This collaboration with MCOE has given our clients a chance to show that individuals can change the path their lives have taken,” Kettering said.
Howard Nelson, 53, of Merced said he would recommend Phoenix to anybody, especially young people. He’s a finish carpenter who completed six months of classes and is certified in numerous skill sets. He helped build a greenhouse at Merced County Juvenile Hall along with an 8-foot by 10-foot house.
“It is real helpful,” Nelson said. “The staff are excellent and they take care of you. Anyone who is an ex-convict or felon can do this program. It’s costfree and anyone on probation or parole should jump on the wagon. You have got to want change in order to change.”
Phoenix Project costs are funded through probation money and participants are referred to the program through probation officers. Fifty-two people have been referred for training and only six have dropped out. Newlon said there’s an 88 percent completion rate.
Moua-Eccles said participants’ transportation costs, uniforms, interview clothes and necessary work tools have been furnished. Bus passes and transportation stipends for those who must travel for training are provided and Phoenix has helped its clients get driver’s licenses and birth certificates.
Newlon said the most common age group of participants is 35 to 44. The oldest was 56 and anyone over 18 can take part. Free tutoring is offered so participants can get their GED.
Typically, about half of those referred will attend a series of seminars and then meet with MouaEccles who helps assess their natural strengths and interests and what might be needed to bolster mathematics and academic skills. She helps her clients come up with a career action plan and sees they get the career training to fulfill highdemand jobs.
Jamieson Diaz of Dos Palos has just gotten hired as a truck driver for Button Transportation of Merced. The 45-year-old Phoenix graduate will go to Dixon to attend company orientation and then drive 18-wheelers hauling agricultural products throughout the state.
“I knew I wanted to find a career. I enjoy driving and the scenery. Phoenix is a good experience; it’s excellent and they got me focused about what would be best for me. Truck driving was at the top of my list. It was a process but I was willing to do it,” Diaz said.
MCOE Career Educator Toula Moua-Eccles speaks at the Phoenix Project graduation.