Toni Cunningham knows the work she oversees is changing lives. As Managing Director of Per Scholas, the students who come through her doors are looking to do more than take classes—they are poised to launch careers and set their lives on a new trajectory.
Per Scholas, a program started in New York before expanding to Columbus in 2012, prepares motivated and curious adults for successful careers in technology through no-cost customized training courses. The intense, eight-week curriculum includes seven hours in the classroom each day, and an additional 10–15 hours of reading and group work each week before two industry recognized certification exams are given at the end.
During the first couple of years in Columbus, Toni said the program primarily served displaced workers following the recession, with an average age of 30–35. However, over the past two years there’s been a shift, and they are serving a younger demographic, with the majority of students ages 18–24.
“The sky is the limit.”
There are more than 20,500 Opportunity Youth (young adults age 16–25) in Franklin County who are not in school and not working. They cause a substantial fiscal and social cost, according to research released in 2015 by Jobs for the Future. Currently, there is an effort underway to engage this group and provide them with educational and job readiness resources.
In February 2016, The Columbus Foundation announced a Critical Need Alert, The Pathways Project: Technology Training and Careers for At-risk Youth, to provide Foundation donors with an efficient and immediate way to support these young people by launching 125 in-demand technology careers for Opportunity Youth in Franklin County. The Foundation’s Community Research and Grants Management team identified three innovative nonprofit organizations in the technology workforce development sector to partner with on this effort—Digital Works, i.c. stars, and Per Scholas.
In less than six weeks, a total of $634,850 was leveraged—helping to strengthen and improve the lives of these men and women, and our community as a whole. The total raised included $200,000 in kickoff funds approved by The Columbus Foundation’s Governing Committee.
De’Andre Williams was one of those who benefited from the generosity of Foundation donors.
A graduate of Linden-McKinley High School, he attended college but was financially unable to continue. He worked numerous customer service jobs before hearing about Per Scholas. He wrestled with the idea for a few months before applying—but ultimately decided to leave his job and enroll.
“I didn’t realize how tech savvy I was and how much I already knew, so it really did help me,” De’Andre said. “The training I got here boosted me to get my job and is allowing me to prosper in what I’m doing.”
De’Andre received a job offer the week of graduation, and has already received a raise in his position at Spectrum.
“The Columbus Foundation’s investment allowed us to be intentional about serving young people like De’Andre who just need an opportunity to take the skills and talents they already have and utilize them,” Toni said.