Work, Study, Live

A former Gavilan College student writes a part number on furrows

Gilroy
– For about 200 students at Gavilan College, such as 28-year-old
William Henry, life can be a convergence of a

Catch 22

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Gilroy – For about 200 students at Gavilan College, such as 28-year-old William Henry, life can be a convergence of a “Catch 22” . They can’t get jobs without relevant work experience but can’t get work experience without a job. They can’t work because they need time to study but they can’t afford to spend time studying without the income of a job. That’s where CalWORKs steps in.

The state-funded program – offered through Gavilan College since 1998 and an extension of a state initiative aimed at helping low-income earners and people on public assistance get stable jobs – pairs students with employers in their future fields. The program, as an incentive to the businesses, screens the students for qualifications and pays 75 percent of their salary while at the company.

“The fact of the matter is this is a golden opportunity,” said Al Parolini, general manager of Coastal Tractor, where Henry works. “Here’s an opportunity to do a job, get experience and learn.”

A Chance for Change

For participants, the program often represents more than a win-win situation. It can mean the opportunity to earn a better life.

“After I had about three kids, I realized how important my education is,” said Gilroy-native Henry, who dropped out of high school at 16 and had his first child a year later.

For the next three years, his life was consumed by caring for his kids – he had two more in quick succession – small jobs and self-destructive behavior, he said.

“In order to change my life, I had to get away from everything I was tempted to do here,” said Henry.

In 1999, he took off for Danville, Ill. and got his General Equivalency Diploma in 2000. Yet, even when he returned to Gilroy the following year with his life straightened out, he could not find the time to go to school and work.

“Through CalWORKs, I had a chance to go back and get an education,” said Henry.

He joined the program in 2004 and was later hired by Coastal Tractor – a farm supply company based in Salinas with four branches, including one in Gilroy. The developments promised a more stable life for Henry.

“Instead of going from job to job, I would actually have a career,” he said.

The classes and the jobs are great, but the two make for long days, said Henry. On a typical day, he starts in the shipping and receiving department at 8am. At 11am, he has about 20 minutes before he needs to be in class. He then stays at Gavilan, in class or studying, until about 6:30, when he returns home to his new wife, their 2-year-old and infant, homework, and a houseful of chores.

Henry, a father now for 11 years, understates the situation.

“It can be time consuming.”

Student by Day, Worker by Morning

Despite the pressures of school and home, they have not affected Henry’s performance at work, said Parolini.

“Heavens, no,” he said. “The young man is doing an excellent job. He’s eager to learn. Quite frankly, it’s refreshing.”

Coastal Tractor not only gets a solid employee in Henry, it gets 75 percent of Henry’s salary paid by the state and benefited from a more streamlined process when hiring Henry.

“You can use a school as a screening device,” said Parolini. “Let the appropriate professors do the screening and let them bring the cream of the crop to you.”

The companies also are performing a service to Gilroy, said Annette Gutierrez, program services specialist at the CalWORKS office at Gavilan.

“They’re contributing to the community by helping these students,” she said. “They’re training future workers for what’s now the global workforce.”

Gavilan, for its part, is happy to do the extra work of screening.

“Having the program does allow enrollment to increase,” said Gutierrez.

Without CalWORKS, finding suitable work for all the students covered by this initiative would be more difficult.

For Henry, the benefit he reaps is threefold. Not only does he have the opportunity to get an education and earn cash while accruing work experience relevant to a future career, he can set an example for his children.

“You don’t have to be wasting your time uneducated like I was.”

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