We made the front page of the Home section of The Virginian-Pilot on Saturday, December 8, 2012:
This post is an inspiring story of perseverance written by a current student, Francine Banks. Ms. Banks describes the obstacles she faced and overcame just to be able to take advantage of the opportunity to obtain a rewarding career through the Building Trades Academy training program. Thank you Ms. Banks for taking the time to write your story and inspire hope for others to not give up the battle to surmount the cycle of poverty.
How I persevered to get started on a new path to success with the Building Trades Academy
By F. L. Banks
The Building Trades Academy is a remarkable opportunity offering individuals such as myself a rewarding career in the ever evolving field of Facilities Maintenance.
But getting started was not easy.
I discovered the Building Trades Academy in the most unique way. I purchased a Sunday newspaper (which I rarely do) that featured an article about the Building Trades Academy and the school’s purpose. I called immediately to find out how to enroll.
After attending orientation, I was apprehensive about beginning the training course because I had (what I thought were) insurmountable obstacles that would deter me.
After hours of debating with myself, I came to the realization this was an opportunity of a lifetime. So, it was time to set my fears aside and thrust a plan into action.
My first obstacle was childcare. This issue has kept me from moving forward for years. Without work, I couldn’t afford childcare and obtaining assistance from the local Department of Human Services (DHS) isn’t an easy feat.
The waiting list is astronomical and the red tape is something not to take lightly. For me to start the BTA class on October 1, 2012, I would need to immediately secure childcare.
I forged ahead determined to find adequate childcare. I wasn’t going to concede. I started calling centers that served my daughters’ school to get availability, pricing, and hours. Still, after twenty calls, I had no success.
Meanwhile, I followed up with my children’s school to see if the staff had any leads on child care options. They produced a list of centers that offered before and after care centers serving the school.
I called every center on the list. Luckily, I found two that had open spaces. One center was extremely accommodating and willing to work with me until the process with DHS was finalized.
Now, the next obstacle was financial. With class starting in just four days, I turned over every stone trying to find help paying for childcare, but to no avail.
Then, the idea came to me — a car title loan. Desperate times call for desperate measures and in order to break the cycle of dead-end jobs and finding myself back in the same position of dependency, this was one sacrifice I was willing to make without hesitation.
It was now Friday, Sept. 28, 2012, and it was game on. With class starting Monday, October 1, it was time to put the pieces to the puzzle together.
I had to gather all required documents and turn in the money by the end of the day if the children were to begin daycare on Monday. As I went to assemble the documents, I hit a snag — no birth certificates!
I hyperventilated and ran around frantic and frazzled looking and searching in dismay trying to relive every possible scenario that would involve having birth certificates. I was dumbfounded. My defining moment came down to two missing pieces of paper.
Thirty minutes later, I gave up. I broke down in a rush of tears; I knew I was finished. This is when my worst enemy decided to pay me another cynical visit: Doubt.
On the brink of turning back, I decided to call the director of the day care center to see if there was any wiggle room, and there was – I could provide birth record letters.
On the search again, this time was like striking GOLD! I had obtained them once for another purpose and they came to my rescue this time around.
I picked up my girls from school and rushed to the center with my treasures in hand. With a sense of relief, I felt like I conquered an army, but my victory was short lived. That was just the beginning of another battle: The DHS’s Division of Child Care Assistance.
I began my daily regimen of calling to follow up on the application I submitted. I called the first morning of class at BTA during the first break of the day. A DHS supervisor told me to fax in a copy of my daughter’s IEP (a document that outlines the services required for special education students), which would potentially speed up the normal process because they are first priority.
After sending in the paperwork, I called to check the status of the fax and to my surprise, when speaking back to the DHS representative, she replied, “IN ORDER TO RECEIVE SERVICES, YOU HAVE TO TURN IN AN APPLICATION AND YOU HAVE NOT.” She also reminded me the waiting list is “TWO YEARS LONG.”
I calmly explained that I had indeed completed and submitted an application and passed along a flyer containing BTA information to a worker. She then informed me she would get back with me as soon as she investigated the details.
Two days went by and I didn’t hear from anyone. I left messages and the director of the day care center called as well. When DHS called me back, she told me she would be passing my information along to a case worker and should hear something soon.
The next week, the case worker contacted me and scheduled an interview. She also informed me I now had to have actual birth certificates to begin the process. This time another archenemy showed up: Anxiety.
My car needed repaired, which prevented me from driving to Richmond to quickly get new certificates. The race was on yet again. I had to rent a car to get to Richmond, get the certificates, and get back in time to attend the interview.
I searched for a company that was affordable and required a low cash deposit. That Friday, after my first week in training at BTA, I got the car and the girls and we hit the road for Richmond.
Once in Richmond, the car began to overheat and smoke billowed out like a steam ship. As I drove back to our hotel, the car slowed down and began to shut off. Smoke profusely exited the hood and I did what any woman would do, I called the fire department. They came and found the car needed antifreeze and they went to the store to purchase some to fill the car up. On my way back to the hotel, it started smoking again.
The next morning, I set out early to Vital Records and half way there, sure enough, it happened a third time, but I was determined to get the certificates. I arrived at Vital Records, smoke and all, with that wild- eyed look of determination.
As onlookers observed with amusement (a typical male audience), I rushed in, got in line, and got the documents. The process took a whopping ten minutes. Back on the road, things got worse. I had to pull over and attempt to contact the rental car company. With no answer, I called AAA. After an hour and two heated debates with the AAA agent and the employee at the rental car company, I finally had a tow truck in route.
When I got back to Norfolk to turn in the piece of junk car, the rental car company didn’t want to refund all my money. I was told I had to “get a manager’s approval” and that they will get back with me. I was just happy that I had the certificates.
I prepared for the interview with Child Care Assistance, making sure I had everything needed. In the interview, I found I still had more documents to provide. I asked specifically what was required and took note. I sent in everything and that wasn’t enough. Finally, I had EVERYTHING required to move forward and was contacted by the caseworker with good news that my case was approved.
This story was not written to induce sympathy, but as a guide for the discouraged, to not give up. No matter what the task involves. I would do it all again because it is imperative to my well-being to move forward.
In addition to attending BTA, I also attend a GED class three days a week after training provided at the school. This opportunity has definitely brightened my outlook for my future. With a plan, perseverance and a positive attitude, anything is possible. Breaking ground is the first step on the path to success.
Building Trades Academy was recognized by Camelot Civic League with the “2012 ‘Points of Light’ Appreciation Award” for outstanding community service to the citizens of Camelot and City of Chesapeake. John Mack, BTA Staff Vice President, accepted the award at the 2012 Community Appreciation Banquet on October 22. The mayor and Delegate Spruill, who was the guest speaker for the event, were present.
Students of Class 197 participated in the construction of a brick entrance sign for the Camelot Community as part of their hands-on training. Students gained knowledge and experience with masonry. The project took place during March 2012.
It is so important to hear from participants and their loved ones the difference the Building Trades Academy makes in their lives. Sharing the success is part of what this blog is all about – to take a brief moment to recognize achievements in the midst of all the hustle and bustle. We, the staff at Building Trades Academy need to hear it personally, and then it needs to be shared with others because it takes so many different people and groups to make all this possible.
I’d like to share about a recent graduate, Mark Reel. The Academy is able to help all different types of people at different points in their life, and Mark Reel is one such individual. Mr. Reel recently graduated with Class 199. He heard about the program while helping a terminally ill friend of the family with things around the house. While at his residence, which happened to be a part of Chesapeake Redevelopment and Housing authority, Mr. Reel saw one of our flyers for the training program. Having had a military career and still being in the Army Reserves, Mark was unsure if this was something that would fit him, but he says he enjoyed working with his hands and thought he would give it a chance. He is glad he did because the training program gave him a renewed purpose in his life.
Another part of our effort to share our success with others as well as allow participants to share their own success with friends and family is the creation of a new Facebook page. Slowly but surely students are starting to partake in their own success. I’d like share a Facebook comment from Elayne Prude Reel, Mark Reel’s wife, as it was written because it was so inspiring:
I wish to thank the teachers and staff of the BTA for all you have done for my husband. My Mark Reel, after four deployments, came home with PTSD. Added to this, not being about to find work in his given field for two years, running out of unemployment, did not help things. When I spotted the ad for the BTA this summer, we both knew it was just the thing he needed. Up until then, his spirits were so low. But with attending the classes and learning new skills, meeting others with similiar struggles was just the thing Mark needed. God used you to work a miracle; you gave my husband back his dignity. His pride. His sense of he really did matter after all. You gave me back my husband. And I thank you and bless you for you have done for for me and my beloved.
~Elayne Prude Reel
I have to say this is the type of stuff that it is all about, and it is happening everyday at the Building Trades Academy. Thank you for reading and sharing in Mr. and Mrs. Reel’s life and the lives of our students.
Class 199 will be holding its graduation on Friday. This class was funded by Community Development Block Grants from Chesapeake and Norfolk, as well as funding from the City of Virginia Beach. It consisted of an unusually high number of participants without a GED or high school diploma. Of the 29 students enrolled, almost one-third were in this category. Therefore, extra efforts were made for this class to provide support toward obtaining a GED.
GED textbooks and the GED Practice Tests were purchased from the Virginia Beach Adult Learning Center. All students are pre- and post-TABE-tested as part of their training in Reading in Math. The Test of Adult Basic Education is a widely used tool for assessing basic skills. But since the GED consists of additional subjects (Language, Writing, Social Studies, and Science), the GED Practice Test was administered to see where these individuals scored in those areas and what the next step would be on the road to the GED. It was determined that three individuals were ready for the GED test! One has already taken and passed the test!! Two more have taken the orientation and scheduled a date to take it. Two more have started GED classes – held after training at the Academy on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 4-7 p.m. – through a partnership with Chesapeake Public Schools.
The costs associated with materials, classes and testing is covered by the Academy. The GED is crucial to success. According to the Virginia Adult Learning Resource Center website, individuals with a GED earn an averge of $7,000 more per year than those without a GED or high school diploma. It is required for many jobs and necessary higher education opportunities.
As it is said, this is one way the Building Trades Academy continues to give “a hand-up, not a hand-out” to its participants.