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Past Career Pathways for the 21st Century attendees reunite, share stories

Feb. 13, 2015

Dawn Boukari, who attended the Career Pathways for the 21st Century Program when she was laid off from Bank of America after 11 years, shares her story with those at a recent program reunion. Dawn Boukari, who attended the Career Pathways for the 21st Century Program when she was laid off from Bank of America after 11 years, shares her story with those at a recent program reunion. View a photo gallery from the event.

During the recent recession, it hasn't been uncommon to hear stories of layoffs and lives derailed by a struggling economy. But a group of graduates of the Career Pathways for the 21st Century program gathered recently at the Knight Campus in Warwick to share brighter news during the program's first-ever reunion.

Approximately 20 people were on hand for the event, which featured refreshments, success stories and ample networking opportunities for the graduates of the program. Launched in 2010 and offered through CCRI's Workforce Partnerships, Career Pathways has been a valuable asset for students who need to re-enter or reposition themselves in the workforce, sometimes after long periods of unemployment.

Career Pathways Coordinator Lynn Watterson and Workforce Development Career Coach Chris Hedenberg said that, in a sense, the reunion was a good representation of what the program was about – bringing students together to create a valuable network and to "put more power into their own pockets."

Hedenberg said: "This isn't a traditional jobs program. We can look at each group and structure it to fit what each group needs."

Past program attendees take a group selfie at the reunion.Sharon Miles, Workforce Partnerships's director of adult education and literacy services, said the program is empowering. "You see people come in who may lack confidence, may have skills but are a little bit rusty and intimidated by the competition and their networks. They come in very quiet, and they leave bonded together and confident."

The program typically runs for 12 weeks with two to three sessions offered per year and there is no cost to attend, thanks to funding from the Rhode Island Department of Education. Participants generally meet for 20 hours a week and can take part in a number of self-assessments, academic brush-up courses, networking opportunities and more.

During the reunion, students shared stories of just how valuable building that network was – particularly for those who had been out of work for some time.

Wayne Riendeau of Cumberland was in the first Career Pathways class, reading about it in the paper after being laid off for seven months from his job in the Cumberland School Department. Now he works in maintenance for Highlands, an assisted living community on the East Side of Providence.

"I liked that the program helped us build a résumé the proper way, and helped us with elevator conversations. It took us out of our normal day to day – helped us get out of the depression of being unemployed," he said.

Blythe WalkerHedenberg and Watterson also fostered a mini-network within the class itself. It brought together students such as Linda Dean of Bristol and Blythe Walker of Cranston, for instance. Dean, now pursuing her associate degree in Business Administration from the college while working as a recruiter at the staffing firm Randstad, met Walker in the class and assisted her in finding the job that will sustain her as she continues to pursue her bachelor's degree in humanities at Roger Williams University.

"One of the things that became evident to me as I was taking the Career Pathways class was that I needed to get back to school. I was this close to finishing my degree. Chris Hedenberg encouraged me to go to RWU and see what they had to say – and that opened the door," said Walker. "I couldn't be happier."

Another graduate of the program, Dawn Boukari of Johnston, referred Walker to the class. Boukari shared her story with those at the reunion. She was visibly emotional as she recounted being laid off from Bank of America after 11 years, being diagnosed with colorectal cancer and deciding that she needed to make changes in her life. A former colleague at a volunteer job referred her to Career Pathways, where she received the encouragement to develop her artistic pursuits – jewelry and beadwork – into an independent business.

"Career Pathways shows you what's possible. You just have to find out what your purpose is, find your place," she said.

Mary ScannellA 2011 graduate of the program, Mary Scannell of North Providence, had been out of work for five months after her position at Bank of America was eliminated in 2010 when she found the program. Hedenberg encouraged her to find and follow her passion rather than search fruitlessly for a part-time job. Scannell now operates Wellness in Motion, her own Kripalu yoga dance business.

"I'm an independent contractor teaching in nursing homes and libraries and out in the community," she said, noting that, thanks to the skills she learned in the program, she was able to line up five clients before she even graduated. "I surround myself with positive people. This program has definitely changed my life. It offered support and the foundation that we needed, and gave us the confidence to go out and live our dreams."

These were only a few of the success stories shared that evening, and Watterson and Hedenberg hope that the list only will continue to grow. The next Career Pathways session is underway at the Newport County Campus, and another session is planned in the spring. For more information, contact Watterson at 401-455-6042.

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