Hood County’s Forward Training Center, a faith-based job readiness center in Central Texas, helps community members from all backgrounds find their purpose through educational programming, career support, and connections to community resources. The Center has programming for youth ages 13–18 and adults 18 and older; there is no faith affiliation requirement for participation. The program focuses on helping participants gain self-sufficiency: the skills needed to succeed at work and the self-confidence to apply those skills in getting and keeping a job as a long-term solution to many of their life challenges. All Forward Training Center’s programming is free, and childcare services are available to participants.

The Forward Training Center offers a broad range of training and support programming to help people gain needed job skills, better themselves, and establish careers. The enrollment process starts with an interview, where intake staff help participants determine their goals and what is needed to accomplish them.

Criminal Legal System Involvement and Behavioral Health

Individuals with mental and substance use disorders or justice involvement make up a fair share of the Center’s participants because of the related challenges with finding and maintaining employment. Participants often include people with charges related to poverty (e.g., driving without a registration, unpaid tickets or fines), women leaving domestic violence situations, and individuals who have been incarcerated and struggle to get hired because of their past convictions. For some participants, getting gainful employment is a condition of reestablishing custody of their children from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

At admission, staff members meet people where they are and work with them to move beyond their current life challenges. “We tell them, ‘We see you, we value you, and we take you just as you are,’” says Executive Director Katy Offutt. “When people have been hurt and beaten down, we give them encouragement and support and help them work toward the life they want and deserve.”

Forward Training Center regularly holds informational sessions with county constables, sheriffs, justices of the peace, and other justice stakeholders to share the program’s services. In turn, those legal system partners can refer individuals who are facing challenges that a stable job and skill development would improve. “When someone has a mental health issue or has committed a minor crime, our local law enforcement does not want to see them incarcerated,” says Offutt. “In some of those cases, Forward Training Center could be a better option.”

For instance, the municipal courts might recommend individuals to complete their community service at Forward Training Center. “We could have them do paperwork in the office for their community service, or we can say, ‘how would you like to enroll in our job readiness program for your community service?’” says Offutt. “They say yes every time, and their results are amazing.”

Job Readiness

The centerpiece of the Forward Training Center’s program is the Jobs for Life (JFL) curriculum. JFL is a job readiness course available nationwide through partnerships with local businesses, civic organizations, county and city officials, churches, and other faith groups. JFL helps under- or unemployed people find and maintain employment.

Forward Training Center has used this curriculum since 2011. JFL uses faith-based and secular-based stories of individuals overcoming adversity to encourage learners to tap into their inner strength to move forward in their lives. JFL has served more than 40,000 people across the United States and has a 72 percent job placement rate nationwide.

Beyond JFL, Forward Training Center offers additional support in all aspects of career development. For example, Forward Training Center offers general equivalency diploma (GED) and English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. It also provides basic and advanced computer classes, including a class on QuickBooks®, a popular bookkeeping and accounting software package.

Additional supports include building job skills and assisting with the following:

  • Resume preparation
  • Mock job interviews
  • Conflict resolution
  • Professional behavior
  • Financial literacy
  • Basic computer skills

“We are known for our high quality of training,” says Offutt. “Therefore, local businesses often contact us to hire our graduates.” Additionally, the two local accelerated high schools have added the youth-focused Powered for Life (PFL) training program to their electives.

Taking It to the Next Level

Forward Training Center offers two trade-school programs for participants who complete the job-readiness program and want even more. Participants can attend the accredited Cisco Networking Academy or the computer-aided design (CAD) training program, which can lead to meaningful jobs that offer good living wages. Through partner programs, participants are offered placement in off-site trade schools in the fields of heating and air conditioning and carpentry/construction. Forward Training Center also partners with Educational Opportunity Centers (EOCs) and can enroll students in college and assist with financial aid applications.

“We help people see that the barrier in front of them in their worst moments is not a wall, but a speed bump,” says Offutt. “And if they slow down and carefully go over it, they can leave it behind them and move forward with their life.”

Linking Community Services and Raising Each Other Up

“We operate with a spirit of unity and community,” says Offutt. Forward Training Center looks at each person’s barriers to obtaining and maintaining employment and then works with community partners to address them. These include assistance with food services, clothing, housing, emergency and domestic violence issues, transportation, and other supports. Many people enter the program in need of behavioral health services and supports, and Forward Training Center can refer people to its many community provider partners. Likewise, Forward Training Center receives referrals from community partners for people who need job training and skill development support.

One of the four major dimensions of a life in recovery is purpose. That is, meaningful daily activities, such as a job or pursuit of education. These activities give a person independence, income, and the tools and resources they need to participate in society in a meaningful way. “We help people identify where they are in life now and where they want to be,” says Offutt, “and then we help them gain the skills and confidence to get there.”

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