By Tabitha Mueller
Families, community members, and government officials packed City Hall’s council chambers Oct. 22 to celebrate the 12th graduating class of Reno Works. It was the culmination of a 12-week intensive program designed to assist people develop the skills necessary to transition out of homelessness. The nine graduates were residents of the Community Assistance Center (CAC) homeless shelter and each put in 8-10 hour days working on community improvement projects, studying skills in a classroom setting, and partnering with local organizations to expand their career opportunities.
Reno City Councilmember Neoma Jardon and Pat Cashell, the Regional Director of Volunteers of America (VOA), established the program in 2015. The City of Reno and the VOA co-hosted the graduation ceremony.
Jardon choked up as she spoke to the graduates about the tremendous obstacles they had overcome: battles with depression, alcoholism, abusive relationships and hospital bills, to name just a few.
“I’m so excited. This is the highlight of my year,” Jardon said, adding, “If you don’t cry, something’s wrong.”
Nan Barta, a previous graduate of the Reno Works program, addressed the new graduates. She passed on her wisdom after finishing the program and highlighted how they were now inspirations for others.
“Nothing delights me more than seeing your tears of joy today. When the party is over, and you settle into your life, remember to take care of you first. Remember to walk before you run. Build your stories and be the examples for others to see,” she said.
After the speeches, Jardon presented each of the graduates with a flower and certificate of accomplishment. She discussed the struggles each of the graduates experienced before the program and where they are now. The graduates’ new workplaces included ACME Restaurant Outlet, Allied Universal, Waste Management, and Downtown Reno Ambassadors.
I’m getting back to that place I used to be. And all these people that were associated with Reno Works put that thing together.”
Raymond K. Scow, a father of one of the graduates, sat behind his son during the ceremony. He rested his hand on his son’s shoulder when Cashell acknowledged the family and friends who came to support the graduates. Some of the family members were reconnecting after years spent out of touch.
“[I’m looking forward to] his future. Him taking the extra step and saying goodbye to his past,” Scow said. “[I’m] feeling joy, being here, able to participate…giving [my son] the support that he deserves, and welcoming him back to the family.”
Daniel Dean, one of the nine graduates from the Reno Works program, reflected on the hope that going through the program gave him.
“I’m getting back to that place I used to be. And all these people that were associated with Reno Works put that thing together. And they had the understanding that if you treat [people down on their luck] with love and compassion and give them the basic things they need to get back to where the mainstream is, they don’t have to be homeless…Never in a million years [would I have expected to find myself here],” he said.
Jardon echoed Dean’s sentiment that sometimes all people need is a little support, and emphasized that Reno Works is designed to help individuals reach long-term success.
“I think part of the stigma with homelessness is that all homeless are lazy and they don’t want to work. I think this program represents that’s not the case. It really is through a community and efforts and programs that build trust to help get people to where they want to and need to go.”
Although the city initially funded the Reno Works program, the private sector now provides most of the financial support. Waste Management evidenced this support when they presented Jardon with a $25,000 check for the program at the graduation ceremony. Jardon hopes to use donations like the one from Waste Management to expand the program in the future.
She asked that community members wanting to help with Reno Works reach out to her or Cashell at VOA. Additional information is available on VOA’s website at https://www.voa-ncnn.org/reno-works or on the City of Reno website at http://reno.gov.
Current community partners who donated their time and resources include: Caliber Hair & Makeup Studio (haircuts and styling), Dress for Success Reno (clothing for job interviews), Job Connect (job search and other career-related services), JOIN (search for employment opportunities), Nevada Safety Training (CPR training and different relevant safety skillsets), Olive Garden (catered the graduation ceremony) and Origins Salon (hair-care and hairstyling techniques).