Thomas Nelson students are taking advantage of a $27 million grant program announced last year that helps Virginia residents recover from economic hardships because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Franz Albertini, director of Career Services and Workforce Transitions at the College, said 171 students have taken advantage of the Re-Employing Virginians (REV) Grant, with those students being awarded a total of almost $220,000.
Gov. Ralph Northam announced the program, which was part of the national CARES Act, last October. Qualified applicants can earn up to $3,000 in grants to train in several high-demand fields. The original deadline was mid-December 2020, but earlier this year that was extended through December 2021.
The program is not just for classes that fall under Workforce Development. Albertini said of the 171 Thomas Nelson students who had received grants by early January, 96 were on the credit side and 75 on the Workforce side.
Katrina Slater and Brandon Dotson are among Thomas Nelson students who took advantage of REV funding. They said they wouldn’t be in school right now otherwise. Both used to work in the restaurant industry, one of the hardest hit by the pandemic.
Slater and Dotson shared insight about their experiences and discussed how the REV program is helping them.
For Slater, who has lived in the Williamsburg area for about 10 years, it was a case of being in the right place at the right time. She was working for Career Works, which is located in the same building on Thomas Nelson’s Hampton campus as the Peninsula Workforce Development Center. Albertini worked in an office across from where she worked.
“He alerted me to the REV program, and it seemed like a great opportunity,” Slater said. “So, I took advantage of it.”
She had worked in the restaurant industry for several years before her place of employment closed in February 2020. She got a job as a healthcare screener for Career Works, but was a contractor and that job ended when the CARES Act ended at the end of the year.
Now she’s enrolled in the Clinical Medical Assistant (CMA) program hoping to get into nursing home administration.
“This is my gateway to get into the healthcare industry,” she said.
Slater attended college for two years after graduating from high school. Then, “life happened,” as she said. The mother of four (ages 20, 18, 8 and 5) always wanted to go back and was looking at enrolling for the fall 2021 semester before learning of REV.
“It made it a whole lot easier for me to be able to do that,” she said. “But I can now take advantage of this program.”
The 12-week program she’s in is ideal.
“It doesn’t take up much of my week so that I can still work and take care of my family,” she said.
She called it “a win-win situation.”
“We’re stuck in the house anyway. It only makes sense to do something to improve yourself besides sitting around and waiting for (the pandemic) to all end.”
While she is not working right now, she is looking for employment and thinks it will be much easier to land a job because of the REV program.
Dotson, a resident of Hampton, said he isn’t “even a tool guy.” It’s been in just the past year that he has been working on the brakes in his car and changing the oil. Now, he’s in the CNC (Computer Numerical Control) Machining program because of REV.
“It’s not something I’ve been doing very long,” he said of his car maintenance. “I did find I enjoyed working with tools. It wasn’t really anything I’d ever done before.”
He learned of the program through the Gov2Go app, and readily admitted he wouldn’t be at Thomas Nelson without the grant.
“No, not at all,” he said.
Dotson, who is 39 with a son who recently turned 1, has a bachelor’s degree in business administration but was in the restaurant industry working as a manager, bartender and server. He, like many, was laid off last year and had a hard time finding work because the industry isn’t hiring.
“This opportunity popped up, and it sounded really great actually,” he said.
He wasn’t sure what field to go into, so he looked on the website to see what was available.
“I didn’t even know what CNC machining was until I started Googling what the options were,” he said. “There are eight, maybe 10, different programs at the Workforce through Thomas Nelson, and CNC just looked really … when you see those videos online, it’s like this is so calming, so relaxing.”
The program also appealed to him because it didn’t take long, about a year, depending on which one he chose. He even thinks he might be able to tie it into his business degree down the road. And with so many local businesses involved in CNC machining, he likes the prospects for the future.
“Exactly what I’d do, I don’t know, but there will be job opportunities,” he said.
He said the REV program already has helped him.
“It’s definitely given me a purpose because I really hadn’t been doing anything,” said Dotson, who was laid off almost one year ago.
He, too, liked the flexibility of the scheduling. His class is just two nights a week.
“When I looked into it and found out all the things, like how convenient it could all be, I was like I actually can do this,” he said.
And of course, “the fact the price was covered was probably the biggest part of it. It’s something I can get in and come out in roughly a year with some sort of knowledge, with some sort of certification and, hopefully, fingers crossed, walk into a job.”
According to the VCCS website, “these grants cover community college tuition for unemployed and underemployed Virginians who wish to train in one of the following fields: Early Childhood Education, Healthcare, Information Technology, Manufacturing, Public Safety, and Skilled Trades.”
To see if you are eligible, and for more information on the REV program, go to https://tncc.edu/re-employing-virginians.