"REWARD" Program Helps People Get Back to Work

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COLUMBIA - The REWARD program created by Cornellia Williams, Columbia Housing Authority self-sufficiency coordinator, is helping dozens of local people go back to work. One public housing resident is working at a nursing home, and said she got the job because of the program.

Angela Mason, who is a mother of four, said she got laid off several years ago before Williams found her. With Williams' help, she started to work at the after school program, taking care of children.

"I learned some new skills, and working with children," said Mason. "I learned that I can probably better myself and do what I want to do."

Mason said with the experience she had, she finally progressed to get employed at a nursing home, which is her dream job.

Williams said she has helped many public housing residents just like Mason. She will first talk to them, finding out what they want to do in the future and looking for possible employers who can give the residents opportunities.

Participants have to work 24 hours a week, totalling 240 hours for training, which helps employers decide if they are the best fit for the positions.

Elaine Fonville, who is the owner and director of Shalom Christian Academy, is one of the employers in the program. As the trainer for the participants in her day care center, she said the program gives the participants--who might not be able to find jobs--good experience.

"It allows them to be in a position to know whether or not this is something they want to continue to develop and to grow in," Fonville said.

Fonville said she has hired several people after the training.

But day care center is not the only place participants can go. Williams said she wants to help them based on their individual dreams and desires.

"We have positions in construction; we have cosmetology; we have child-care; we have food service; we have factory positions," Williams said.

Williams said she hopes she can help low-income people not only find jobs, but also think beyond that for their future.