East Bay News

East Bay program changing lives

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A unique program in Contra Costa County is making a real difference in turning around the lives of young people who've gotten off-track. In fact, it's become so successful that officials want to expand it.

This well dressed man you see before you used to wear saggy pants, cuss a lot, and called people in authority by their first names.

"We had a couple of altercations. He wasn't used to anyone telling him he needed to be on time and holding him accountable for his actions," said Stacy Vann, program director.

"'Why are you late? Don't come here dressed like that? Dress professional when you come here,'" said DeRon Middleton, Pathway student.

DeRon Middleton landed at Stacy Vann's door when there was nowhere else to turn. The 10th grade drop out and former gang member and drug dealer - didn't exactly know how to dream big. When his criminal behavior ruined his basketball dreams and his explosive anger served as a brick wall, he was beginning to think his fate was sealed.

"I was like forget it, I don't even care no more, you know, I'm just going to do what I got to do," said Middleton.

But then DeRon's son was born.

"As far as my turnaround, he played the biggest role of all," said Middleton.

Deron found Pathways - a program in Contra Costa County that is tough on its students - yet couldn't make it any easier for them.

"The program is completely free - we provide lunch, bus tickets, books, pen, paper - everything," said Vann.

The 14 week long class takes place on the Los Medanos campus in Pittsburg - so students get a feel for college life. They learn a combination of the basics - from math and English - to manners and interviewing. But dressing up nicely will only go so far - Deron is finding even the best interviewing skills can't erase his criminal record.

"They tell me 'oh you did a fantastic job, we would love to have you,' but then when they check my background, its like 'we would love to have you, but we can't hire you because of your background," said Middleton.

That's where Stacy comes in. She will follow up with these graduates for the next two years. She believes everyone deserves a second chance.

"That's why I push. I personally go to the employers and vouch for them and let them know I will check in on them while he's working," said Vann.

The Contra Costa County Workforce Development Board created the program, and uses money from the U.S. Labor Department to pay for it. It's going so well - the board is trying to expand it to Contra Costa College. She sees a bright future ahead of DeRon. He wants to be a chef and own his own business. And if he keeps dressing and acting the part - his menu of options should be endless.

For more information about the Career Pathways program, call Joyce Reynolds, grant manager with the Workforce Development Board, at 925-646-5193.

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