In This Edition:
Crystal Waters

Thanks to you: Crystal is confident and achieving her dream

"I completed the Job Training and Placement Program as readily employable and ready to take on the world. I was equipped with new attire and a 30-second elevator pitch to sell myself. With this experience, I was able to box up old Crystal, the one who lacked confidence and didn't have a course for my career, and present Crystal 2.0. I've been working for Wells Fargo for three years now and see all of the opportunities for my future." Click here to read Crystal's story...

Alissa Friedman

Executive Director's year in review

The 2016-17 fiscal year featured strong placement results alongside our best year ever for donations and event income. Supported by a strong staff and volunteer team, the organization developed partnerships that will help us serve more job seekers in the coming year than ever before. Read more...

SparkPoint Career Center

Helping people along the journey to employment

Helping people along the journey to employment: That's the role of Opportunity Junction's Career Counselors working at SparkPoint Contra Costa in Bay Point. The Career Counselors work one-on-one with job seekers, tailoring services to meet each person's individual employment needs. Read more....

Save the date for 2018 Gala, May 5

Save the date for our 2018 Imagine Gala - May 5th!

Opportunity Junction's 2018 Imagine Gala will be held on Saturday, May 5th at the Diablo Country Club. Save the date! For 17 years, the lives of low-income families across East Contra Costa County have been transformed thanks to the generosity of our many donors, sponsors, employers, and volunteers. It will be a night to remember.

Research paper

OJ featured in national research paper

In June, Opportunity Junction was featured in a two-part research paper prepared by Tyton Partners on behalf of the James Irvine Foundation. The research paper aims to "highlight how alternative pathways programs [such as Opportunity Junction] can accelerate employment prospects for low-income adults and other underserved populations." Read more...

Opportunity Junction on YouTubeOpportunity Junction on Facebook

 

Thanks to you: Crystal is confident and achieving her dream

Crystal Waters and her son "Thanks to Opportunity Junction, I was able to present the new version of myself to the world."

Crystal Waters was feeling lost and uncertain when she first heard about Opportunity Junction. She started working at Jamba Juice shortly after graduating from high school, and four years later she had become a shift manager. Although it wasn't her dream career, Crystal was expecting her son and the position gave her some stability as a first time mom. Things abruptly shifted when she lost her job right after her son was born.

"When my mom told me about OJ, I had been out of work for four months," Crystal shares. "My recent termination kept me from finding a good job, and it was depressing to be denied a chance at employment in every entry level opportunity. I knew I was capable of doing better and building a career. I knew that I had many valuable skills, but I could not prove any of that in my resume. When I first walked into Opportunity Junction, I was greeted at the door by the core value: 'Everyone who is willing to work hard deserves an opportunity to succeed.' I knew then, that I couldn't be in a better place."

Crystal Waters Crystal excelled in the training program, earning her Microsoft Office Specialist Certifications in Word and Excel. She also learned from every opportunity in the Life Skills class. "Life Skills made me more aware of who I am, what I desire, and what I could do better. I enjoyed the questions that stimulated a part of my mind I had not yet tapped into. I gained a confidence that I simply cannot describe. The Los Medanos College course, Business Ethics, taught me a lot about impressions and how people view you at work and in life by the decisions you make. I promised myself to always live up to being a hard worker, who is compassionate and humble.

"I completed the Job Training and Placement Program as readily employable and ready to take on the world. I was equipped with new attire and a 30-second elevator pitch to sell myself. With this experience, I was able to box up old Crystal, the one who lacked confidence and didn't have a course for my career, and present Crystal 2.0."

"I've been working for Wells Fargo for three years now and see all of the opportunities for my future. My son and I just moved into a three-bedroom apartment, and I recently purchased a brand new car. I am hoping to buy a home soon. We also just took a week-long vacation to Legoland, and now my son is obsessed with Legos and building.

"When I lost my job at Jamba Juice, I thought it was the end. Thanks to Opportunity Junction, I now see that it was just the beginning I needed to launch my career."

Back to top

Executive Director's year in review

Dear Opportunity Junction Community,

Alissa Friedman Thank you for everything you do - volunteer, donate, hire, refer job seekers - to build Opportunity Junction's capacity and support our participants in launching careers. Looking back on 2016-17, I'm grateful for the hard work and creativity that helped us launch 117 new careers and position us to serve even more local residents this coming year.

Placements and program: As you know, our overarching goal is to place motivated job seekers in sustainable long-term employment. This year, our goal was to make 110 unique initial placements across our three programs for job seekers (Job Training and Placement, Road Map to College, SparkPoint Career Counseling). That's 110 new job seekers, not including alumni we're helping to earn raises or re-enter employment. Our team, led by Director of Programs Brianna Robinson, hit 117. Compared to last year, that's slightly fewer placements (vs. 121) at a slightly higher average starting wage ($14.53 this year vs. $14.51).

The economy plays an interesting role here. With sustained economic growth in the Bay Area, unemployment is lower overall, and recruitment of job seekers has become an issue. We're seeing fewer job seekers. For example, applications to the Job Training and Placement Program dropped to 133 this year from 146 the year before and 193 the year before that. These applicants are facing greater barriers than in years past, too. We accepted more job seekers with criminal convictions (57% increase), disabilities (44% increase), and trauma (8% increase). Some barriers, though, like the lack of accessible childcare, still prevent job seekers from being able to participate in our programs.

Our staff has done an excellent job of introducing creative recruitment strategies to reach the many residents who don't know us yet. Under the direction of Rich Berger (Director of Business Development), our Employment and Outreach Specialist, Shannel Steen, ran a series of evening informational events on topics like housing, employment, and immigration in order to attract more residents. She also developed new channels for distributing flyers, reintroduced a recruitment lunch, and started processing applications on demand.

Partnership with Los Medanos College: This year, our Road Map to College partnership with Los Medanos College (LMC) expanded and evolved. We sharpened our focus, targeting 18-24 year olds who are low-income, unemployed, out of school, and facing barriers to employment including aging out of the foster care system. We continue to host LMC staff here at our office to guide participants through orientation, financial aid, academic counseling, and assessment, and we continue to provide wrap-around support (counseling and referrals), supplemental financial supports (e.g. textbooks, tools), and job placement to our Road Map participants.

What's new is that LMC has engaged us to screen applicants for a pilot Electrical Technology (ETEC) cohort that is launching this fall. ETEC careers are high-paying, and the area needs about 150 employees annually to replace retirees and fill new positions. As part of the ETEC partnership, we are also working out a real-time data sharing process, so that we can address student attendance and academic problems proactively. We've hired a second College and Career Counselor, Whitney Flores, to join Dionne Moeller as part of the Road Map to College team and to shepherd applicants into the ETEC pilot. Whitney will also support a full cohort (20) of high-need youth who start school this fall, including some of those ETEC enrollees.

What I've learned over these past few years of working with LMC is just how critical the community college programs are in the overall effort to prepare local residents for sustainable careers. It's a big system, sometimes difficult to navigate, but the college staff members share our vision that all residents will have the opportunity to succeed. I only wish they had the funding to offer more classes each semester, so that the competition could take place within the classroom, not just to get a seat.

Fundraising: Funding is critical to us, too, and this year saw the highest combination of individual donations and event income in our history! Supporters like you combined for more than $158,000 in donations, a 33% increase over the previous year and our highest total by almost $40,000. The 2017 Imagine Gala raised the second-highest amount ever, second only to 2014. Many thanks to you and to Development Manager, Eva Luo, who was promoted this year and managed both these campaigns.

Thanks also to Aaron Silva, the architect of the Bell Ringers Club. The Club's impact-oriented donations - a set amount for each unique initial placement made - inspired a new member to join them. Teri House joins Paladin FS, the Alliance of Chief Executives and an anonymous donor in pledging a donation each time our Job Training and Placement Program participants get their first placement. Please let me know if you would like to learn more.

Finally, our development team added a Grant Writer this year, Cynthia Dial, formerly the Director of Development for SHELTER, Inc. of Contra Costa. As you'll read in the New Grants section, we were honored to receive two new important multi-year grants: from the Walter S. Johnson Foundation, a grant to support the evaluation and re-development of Road Map To College to further expand its capacity; and from The San Francisco Foundation, a prestigious Equity Grant for core operating support.

Volunteers: In 2017, more than 100 people volunteered as teachers, trainers, receptionists, Food Bank team members, event staff, outreach staff, mock interviewers, financial coaches, and advisors and board members. Our volunteers logged almost 2,300 hours, and many more hours never made it into the database. We featured a few of our volunteers in previous newsletters this year - Mike Carroll, Mary Villa, Jr., and the team from Chevron - but there were more than I can mention who made valued contributions to programs and the organization.

New Board Members and Retirements: This year, we were pleased to welcome Ashrita Prasad, Vice President and Region Manager for U.S. Bank, and Carol Ann Barber, an independent recruiter, to our Board of Directors. Ashrita says, "In my position at U.S. Bank, I see how Opportunity Junction makes possible happen in the East Bay, by creating a trained and ready workforce that ensures the prosperity of our communities." Carol adds that she is excited about serving on the board because of "my passion for matching individuals to the perfect job or project."

Meanwhile, Jane Collett, one of the founders of the Friends of Opportunity Junction group that transformed into the Gala Committee, moved from the Board of Directors to the Advisory Council. I am grateful to still have her advice and input in this new capacity as we move forward into the new fiscal year.

And I'm grateful to have you, whatever role you play in this work. None of us succeeds alone. With your support, though, we are succeeding in bringing hope and financial sustainability to the residents of East Contra Costa.

Sincerely,

Alissa Friedman, Executive Director

Back to top

Helping people along the journey to employment

Helping people along the journey to employment: that's the role of Opportunity Junction's Career Counselors working at SparkPoint Contra Costa in Bay Point. The Career Counselors work one-on-one with job seekers, tailoring services to meet each person's individual employment needs. In weekly meetings, they work on creating resumes, identifying strengths and challenges, applying for jobs, developing interviewing skills, addressing employment barriers, whatever it takes to prepare for and obtain employment.

Opportunity Junction is honored to partner with SparkPoint, which was created in 2011 by the United Way of the Bay Area to provide one-stop financial help and education centers where low-income residents can access a full range of free services provided by SparkPoint partners. These services include financial coaching, credit improvement, healthcare eligibility, job training, free tax preparation, business development, and consumer law protection

Nazaria Preciado and Teresa Rosebud, our two Career Counselors, are connected by compassion and the desire to help others. The Opportunity Junction team of two at SparkPoint is small but mighty. Last year, 65 participants were placed into positions earning an average of $14.82/hour. An additional 34 alumni were placed into new positions averaging $15.51/hour.

Nazaria PreciadoNazaria is the first in her immediate family to earn a college degree, receiving a BA in Sociology from California State University, Sacramento. Nazaria knew she wanted to find work centered on helping others and soon found her career in nonprofit employment services. Prior to joining Opportunity Junction, Nazaria was a Job Developer for an employment services program. Nazaria says, "Working at Opportunity Junction allows me to help people in the community that I grew up in. It is rewarding to see the positive changes people make in their lives when they believe in themselves. And then when they get a job, it is the best. I'm happy to be a part of that!"

Teresa RosebudTeresa gained her experience teaching computer applications for people undergoing vocational rehabilitation before becoming a nonprofit Employment Services Specialist in Solano County. Always on the go, Teresa attended college while working full-time and caring for family, receiving her AA in Sociology from Contra Costa College. Says Teresa, "Even as a child, I liked helping people. Today, I find it satisfying when I see people get the job they want and reach their career goals. Many people I work with have current and past struggles, but I look for the good and help them to see future possibilities."

SparkPoint hosts a weekly Welcome Group, in English and Spanish, to introduce its array of services to prospective clients. If you or someone you know is looking for help finding a job, contact Opportunity Junction at (925) 776-1133 for details on when and where to attend a SparkPoint Welcome Group. Or attend our Opportunity Junction All Program Orientation, held Tuesdays at 10:00am in Antioch.

Back to top

OJ featured in national research paper

Research paper In June, Opportunity Junction was featured in a two-part research paper prepared by Tyton Partners on behalf of the James Irvine Foundation. The research paper, titled "Path to Employment: Maximizing the Impact of Alternative Pathways Programs," aims to "highlight how alternative pathways programs [such as Opportunity Junction] can accelerate employment prospects for low-income adults and other underserved populations."

Part one of the paper describes what the author has identified as the six key components, or Pillars, of any successful Alternative Pathways Program. Part two of the paper profiles nine organizations, including Opportunity Junction, whose programs demonstrate one or more of the six pillars.

An excerpt from the paper follows, and you can access the entire paper here.

"While drawing on elements of more traditional education-to-employment programs, Alternative Pathways Programs (APPs) explicitly prepare participants for validated, in-demand workforce opportunities. These programs often provide a host of wrap-around services and support that generally far exceeds what is found in traditional channels, with high-levels of customization and post- "graduation" engagement for participants. Alternative Pathways Programs represent an exciting potential solution to the employment barriers faced by low-income adults; they are scaffolding education and training offerings and driving successful outcomes both in terms of program completion and job placement in a time- and cost-efficient manner.

"To best serve low-income adults effectively, we have identified six "program pillars" that APPs need to optimize. The six pillars reflect:
  • Enrollment Policies
  • Participant Support
  • Labor Market Alignment
  • Connections
  • Training Mix
  • Financial Model
"A range of models exist within pillar, and we have identified an optimal one in each area for those providers - both for-profit and non-profit - targeting (or seeking to serve) low-income adults. By focusing on the six identified pillars, companies and organizations can build strong(er) models that have a greater ability to deliver outcomes and drive scaled participation. This may include enhancing or building "pillars" at existing Alternative Pathways Programs; helping organizations re-orient programs toward low-income adult populations; and/or establishing completely new programs."


Back to top

 

New Grants and Support for our Programs

We are proud and grateful to announce the following new grants and funding partnerships:

California Wellness Foundation: We are entering the third year of a three-year core operating grant from the foundation. The foundation, among other priorities, seeks to improve health outcomes by strengthening pathways to obtaining and retaining employment.

Lowell Berry Foundation : The foundation renewed its support for the Job Training and Placement Program. The foundation is committed to, "serving our local community by providing a safety net for those in need while focusing on organizations that effectively shape lives and build leaders for tomorrow."

San Francisco Foundation: We recently received a competitive two-year, $150,000 core operating grant from The San Francisco Foundation. The San Francisco Foundation leverages resources, expertise, and relationships to expand opportunity and achieve equity in the Bay Area. The foundation serves the San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, and San Mateo Counties.

Strive for Change Foundation:The foundation renewed its support for our programs that help the working poor in Contra Costa County achieve economic self-sufficiency. Each year, the foundation starts from scratch to raise all of the money it gives away to Opportunity Junction and other effective East Bay organizations.

Tipping Point Community: Tipping Point Community provided the second payment on Opportunity Junction's annual core operating grant. Tipping Point also provides training, technical assistance, and targeted grants to help us increase our capacity across all functional areas of the organization.

Walter S. Johnson Foundation: We are pleased to announce that the foundation awarded a prestigious two-year grant to refine and expand our Road Map to College program, serving low-income, 18-24 year olds, helping them successfully earn a Career Technical Education certificate through Los Medanos College, and then obtain employment. The Walter S. Johnson Foundation assists vulnerable youth to become successful adults by promoting positive change to the policies and systems that serve them and by supporting high impact and promising practices.

Back to top

 

Newsletter Contributors: Eva Luo, Brianna Robinson, Cynthia Dial, and Alissa Friedman. Photographs by Brianna Robinson, Eva Luo, and PhotoSophistry.com. Newsletter assembled by Lea Mason. (Thanks, Lea!)

On the Road to Self-Sufficiency — Opportunity Junction fights poverty by helping low-income Contra Costa residents gain the skills and confidence to get and keep jobs that support themselves and their families.

Opportunity Junction is exempt from federal income taxation under Section 501(C)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.
© Opportunity Junction 2017