The Center’s Cornerstone program prepares homeless, mentally ill clients for reintegrating into the world. The program provides them with a place to get a meal, a shower or an address for their mail. Now they are also able to offer them so much more thanks to Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) Independent Living Skills courses.
After a very fortuitous meeting with LAUSD, Bonnie Wood, Employment/Education Specialist, set about to bring classes teaching reading, writing, daily living skills, math, communication skills, and so much more to everyone at Cornerstone. She knew that this coursework could help the clients build self-esteem and if they wanted and worked hard, they could work towards a GED or occupational classes for others.
“We were nervous when it started, but it has turned out really well,” said Jorge Vega, Client Services Coordinator. Vega had every reason to be nervous. This is a big undertaking for the clients of Cornerstone. Not only do they have to show up to the program an hour before their doors are officially opened, but they also have to commit to classes twice a week from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m., totaling 120 hours to complete the course. So far, more than 70 people have taken the classes. They are about to begin their second semester where at the end they will receive a certificate of completion.
The clients have really been enjoying the classes and both Wood and Vega have seen positive differences in the clients. The clients are now taking more chances, reading aloud, letting themselves become more vulnerable to making mistakes, writing on their own and most importantly they are becoming more tolerant of each other. Vega said, “It is very stimulating for them.” and Wood agrees adding in, “It is so validating to them when they can finish assignments and I think down the line they will get a lot more out of it,” more than they might see now.
These classes are so important to clients as a good portion of them unfortunately were not educated in basic life skills growing up at home. They lacked skills such as how to boil an egg or how to floss teeth – skills needed to have a sense of normalcy. The class curriculum is kept topical and fresh and it is encouraging to the staff to see clients helping each other in the class. “It is motivating to see people see their potential,” said Wood.
After a certificate is obtained, there are different options for the clients. If they are interested, they can be referred to either GED classes at Van Nuys High School or to Valley Employment Services, another Center program, which can help them enroll in any of the local occupational centers.
Both Wood and Vega see these classes continuing indefinitely as long as people keep attending the classes. Ultimately “education connects them to the community,” Wood precisely summarized as the benefit of the classes.
Photo: Teacher, May Raqueda, helping a student with his work.