April Joyce rolled her mouse over to the start button for the social studies portion of the High School Equivalency practice test.
It was a Tuesday afternoon in October and the library inside the Durham Technical Community College Orange County Campus buzzed with mid-semester energy.
Just before starting her next session, Joyce looked up to see a familiar face – Mary Moore, the new Education Navigator for Durham Tech and Orange County Department of Social Services.
“Which section are you on,” Moore asked. “How do you feel?”
Joyce, 21, is a single mom working in the fast food industry. She is among 153 clients that Orange County DSS referred to Moore for help. As an Education Navigator, Moore connects DSS clients to resources at the College for assistance.
“We’re helping clients heal their future. They may have had barriers or challenges in the past and they may not have had the successes other people had,” Moore said. “I’m becoming their mentor and their success coach. I’m very passionate and committed to it.”
In 2016, the Department of Health and Human Services partnered with state-level social services and community college systems to roll out a new program component to Food Nutrition Services called Education and Training, or FNS E&T. The North Carolina Community College System chose Durham Tech and Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College as the first two schools to implement this grant-funded, pilot program.
“I really feel like we’re helping making generational changes,” Moore said. “The Education Navigators are social justice advocates that are using education and training as a way to alleviate poverty.”
The objective is to connect DSS clients to the resources they need to earn a sustainable income.
“We focus on stackable credentials,” Moore said. “If you have a high school diploma, your stackable credential might start with becoming a certified nursing assistant. Your next (credential) might be phlebotomy and central sterile processing. We look at how each one of these will increase their pay and promotional opportunities.”
While Durham Tech provides FNS E&T clients with education and training, Orange County DSS provides assistance in other areas. Clients are eligible for mileage reimbursement to class, child care vouchers, housing assistance, tuition assistance, bus passes, uniforms and emergency assistance. They also provide referrals to Dress for Success so clients can receive professional clothes for job interviews.
“It’s really helping the person holistically,” Moore said. “I work with the case managers if the students are having problems in class or getting into classes. We work together to lift that person up. This pilot project has given us a way to say ‘there’s an opportunity to collaborate at Durham Tech and use DSS resources to help more communities.’ ”
The pilot program saw significant success in its first year. The grant was extended another two years and will be rolled out to 10 more North Carolina community colleges starting this month.
Stories of Moore’s clients range from a young woman who transitioned from a school bus driver to a central sterile processing technician at UNC; a 79-year-old man working toward his High School Equivalency to get a better paying job to care for his wife on disability; and a woman who worked in food service, earned her BioWork Certificate, and now works at Revlon.
Joyce hopes to be the next success story. She completed her High School Equivalency in December 2017 and will begin the Certified Medical Administrative Assistant course this month.
She credited Moore for pushing her to succeed.
“She is really dedicated to helping me get my High School Equivalency. I can tell she really wants me to get it and I don’t know what I would’ve done without her help,” Joyce said. “Most people give up on you if you don’t get your high school diploma because they think you don’t want anything after that, but some people just make mistakes. This program doesn’t give up on me like a lot of other people do. It feels good to know I’m on the right track now.”