MCOE, pro­ba­tion depart­ment Part­ner for Phoenix Project

Merced Sun-Star (Saturday) - - Community - Staff re­port

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.

DY­LAN MCMULLEN Cour­tesy of the Merced County Of­fice of Ed­u­ca­tion

MCOE Ca­reer Ed­u­ca­tor Toula Moua-Ec­cles speaks at the Phoenix Project grad­u­a­tion.

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