By Rich Matheson
Business Journal Writer
STOCKTON — The Stockton Arena was awash with games, food and music on the evening of August 9 as the JobRedi Foundation honored the recipients of a grant with its inaugural “HOOPLA” event.
Since 2013, the JobRedi grant has provided assistance through both financial incentives and extracurricular training to students seeking to complete a vocational certificate at one of four participating community colleges.
“They really care”, said 18-year-old Charles Potts Jr., as he took in the spectacle of the event. “I mean, to go all out like this is different. It’s not something a lot of people would do.”
Potts is a recent graduate of Health Careers Academy and plans to study multimedia at San Joaquin Delta College. He is one of 110 JobRedi grantees who were honored at the event, which was attended by Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, Stockton Chief of Police Eric Jones and San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar, among many others.
The JobRedi grant’s prerequisites for acceptance don’t focus on an applicant’s GPA, but they do require applicants to have graduated high school. All grantees must live in San Joaquin or Stanislaus counties, have personally overcome some sort of adversity, demonstrate financial need, enroll at a two-year community college and be under the age of 35.
“I actually applied before the cutoff,” said Christine Scheuermann, who is one of the grantees. “I saw the criteria a couple months before my birthday, and I’m, like, ‘Oh, I gotta hurry up and fill this out.’”
A former certified nursing assistant, Scheuermann, 36, is now trying to get into a psychiatric technician program at San Joaquin Delta College. Her goals don’t end there, though. “I’m also doing my prerequisite for a psychology major,” she said. “It can warrant more income and higher advancement if I have that bachelor’s degree.”
The focus of the JobRedi program, however, is on vocational certificate programs. JobRedi founder and CEO, Dean “Dino” Cortopassi, noted that when he went to high school, some 25 percent of graduates went on to college, while the other 75 percent went to work. “But, we were prepared to go to work because there was a host of vocational training classes available. And not just in terms of auto shop or something like that, but a great many.”
Cortopassi, an honoree of the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans and local farmer and philanthropist, conceived the JobRedi program in response to what he calls a “major strategic mistake on the part of the educational system.
“Over the past 40 years or so, in our state especially, but also in other states, the educational establishment blindly shifted focus in terms of preparing high school graduates to go to college,” Cortopassi said. “It took about four decades for this to happen, but it got to the point where vocational education just didn’t mean anything. Vocational training was eliminated from high school curricula.”
As a result, with more and more baby boomers reaching retirement age, the pool of vocationally-competent employees is shrinking. JobRedi addresses the “forgotten minority” of high school graduates who, through a combination of financial need and lack of access to vocational training, face limited employment possibilities; the majority of those being at minimum wage.
JobRedi sent representatives to 100 classrooms to present the program to high school and community college students throughout San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties. Many grantees originally heard about the program from their guidance counselors.
Two such students are Shorook and Malak Hassan, twin sisters who recently graduated from Independence High School in Lodi. Both applied for the JobRedi grant in November on the advice of their school’s guidance counselor. They received news that they had been awarded the grant on the day of their graduation. “I was so speechless; I was so shocked,” said Shorook Hassan, who will be studying to be a mental health specialist with an eventual goal of becoming an RN. “I wanted to jump and dance,” added Malak Hassan, who will be studying early childhood education to be a master teacher.
Once their courses of study begin, JobRedi receives regular reports on the grantees’ progress, attendance and grades, with the intent of detecting and averting potential problems in the early stages.
Grantees are also given financial incentives to attend workshops throughout the year, which provide them with soft skills, life skills, career and technical training. While these workshops are not mandatory, grantees sacrifice a portion of their potential earnings should they choose not to participate. Grantees are also rewarded financially for keeping good attendance and maintaining good grades in their college careers. This grant is not a hand-out; grantees are incentivized to be responsible students and to participate in the program.
JobRedi also provides a network of mentors, or “coaches” to further support its grantees.
Tom Wilson, a member of JobRedi’s Advisory Group, is responsible for recruiting these coaches.
“We’re looking for people who’d like to coach these kids and be like a parent or a grandparent, and this is an ideal job for an empty nester or a retired person who wants to share their skills in life,” Wilson said. “It’s a chance for them to be with aspiring young people who want to make more out of their lives.”
Individuals who are interested in becoming a coach to JobRedi grantees are encouraged to contact Mr. Wilson at [email protected]