As Kimberly West walked in Thursday’s graduation for the Pine Street Inn’s job-training program, in front of hundreds, she viewed it as the high school commencement she never had.
“I’m really uplifted and I’m feeling really empowered,” West said.
Sixty graduates attended Thursday’s ceremony and will use what they learned in housekeeping and food service classes to bring themselves back into the workforce.
West, who plans on working part time in food service while going to school, credited the Pine Street Inn for her success. She said she was always excited to come in and learn.
“Everybody here has welcomed me and it’s really made me want to reintegrate myself back into the workforce,” West said. “I just want to better my future.”
Lyndia Downie, president of the Pine Street Inn for 35 years, said the facility has been offering job-training programs for 20 years and has been holding the graduation ceremonies for 15 years. After all that time, she said, the ceremonies haven’t gotten old to her.
“Every year we have a new class of graduates, every year there’s someone in there that motivates and inspires me,” Downie said. “When you watch how hard they work to get out of here, it motivates all of us.”
Downie said the Pine Street Inn holds the ceremonies because some of the graduates never participated in one before.
The Rev. Liz Walker, pastor of Roxbury Presbyterian Church and a former journalist for WBZ-TV, delivered a short keynote speech at the ceremony, encouraging the graduates to believe in themselves.
“The world will try to define you by one thing that you’ve done — homeless, unemployed, has been in prison — and will try to write you off,” Walker said. “You have to write your own story.”
Downie said the job-training programs take between three to six months. Sixty percent of the graduates have already found employment, and some couldn’t attend the ceremony because they were working at jobs.
Kenneth Liston has been working at AC Hotel Ink Block since its opening on March 1. Liston said he originally applied for a housekeeping position and was stunned when the hotel offered him a job as a maintenance engineer.
“I never thought that any of this was possible,” Liston said.
Jake Sugerman, who helps run the workforce development programs, works closely with all of the participants. Before working at Pine Street Inn, Sugerman was a teacher for 10 years and he said that seeing the graduates on Thursday was just as rewarding as watching the growth of his former students over the course of a school year.
“Seeing them accomplish goals that they’ve set at the beginning of their training — get housing, get jobs, finish training, reconnect with family — it’s amazing to witness,” Sugerman said.Thomas Oide can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.