An article in some Aug. 1 editions about a welfare-to-work program at the University of the District of Columbia incorrectly said that program participant Victoria Franklin formerly worked at Georgetown University. Franklin used to work at George Washington University. (Published 8/3/04)
For 16 years, Victoria Franklin of Southeast Washington enjoyed steady work as a telecommunications technician at Georgetown University. She installed telephone lines, spliced cables and proudly lugged 16-foot ladders as she climbed up into ceilings and down into manholes as the sole female technician on a staff of six.
She had never satisfied the few outstanding credits to receive a high school diploma, but there didn't seem to be any need. Then last year, her entire work unit was let go without warning, she said. For the first time in her life, the single mother of two teenage girls began relying on public benefits, a combination of cash assistance and food stamps totaling $668 a month, to provide for her family and to pay her mortgage.
"I didn't have a diploma, so when I got laid off, I couldn't just walk right into something else," Franklin said.
She went to night school at Ballou Senior High School to get her high school diploma. And last week, Franklin was among a group of 70 graduates who received certificates in a spirited ceremony celebrating the successful completion of Summer Bridge, a six-week pre-college program at the University of the District of Columbia.
Franklin and 20 other graduates could be selected for the pre-college program only after completing another UDC program, Paving Access Trails for Higher Security, or PATHS. That program, designed for people receiving public assistance, includes intensive math and English classes, computer training and help with writing resumes and cover letters. The Department of Human Services created PATHS in 1997 to help people move from welfare to work.
"It's an ongoing process, but it's that first step that's always the most difficult to do," said Kate Jesberg, director of the Income Maintenance Administration, a division of the department, which oversees food stamps and other welfare programs. "This gives them the tools to go out and get a job."
Federal records show that as of May, 87,602 District residents in 43,334 households were receiving food stamps. PATHS provides job training and education for people who need extra help to enter the workforce, officials said.
Since 1997, the University of District of Columbia's School of Business and Public Administration has operated PATHS through an agreement with the District's Department of Human Services. The university designs the curriculum and delivers student progress reports to the agency. The city pays about $100,000 to the university to run the program, Jesberg said.
This year, 167 people who received food stamps were referred to PATHS, and 85 of them found full-time jobs, agency officials said.
On Friday, the 21 PATHS students who were part of the Bridge program ceremony sat with their family members and friends in an auditorium classroom. The program included speeches about perseverance, excellence and persistence.
Clemmie Solomon, vice president for student affairs, told the crowd to set goals and to not shy away from challenges along the way.
"Don't get hung up in the struggle. Within struggle, there is progress. Appreciate the struggle, keep the faith," he said.
Solomon's mention of difficulty brought out murmurs of assent from the guests and the graduates. One of them, Mark Green, 42, plans to return to the university this fall, 22 years after he dropped out of college to take care of his daughter. Years after that, Green got involved in drugs and had several low-wage jobs before deciding in 2000 to change his life.
He said the classes in the PATHS and Summer Bridge program rekindled the love for learning that he had in college before he left. He plans to study computer science.
"In all those 22 years that I was out of school, I knew that I would go back," Green said.
Another student, Steven Napper, 54, a Navy veteran, recently stopped working as a maintenance employee with the city public schools because of a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. Napper had his high school diploma but had never gone to college.
As he walked up to receive his certificate, enclosed in a royal blue folder, his fellow classmates cheered him on. He was one of the oldest students and clearly, one of the best-known.
Napper said he is not sure when he might be able to work again and had pursued the training program because he wanted to improve himself. To attend classes, Napper traveled for an hour and a half, taking two buses from his home in Northeast.
His professor, Xavier Hixon, said Napper graduated at the top of the class. He sat next to Napper during a celebratory lunch and patted his former student on the back after he received his certificate.
Napper broke into a smile at the praise. "I feel great," he said.