When one’s troubled past includes incarceration, there are a myriad of barriers to reentering society. Scant job opportunities become the toughest challenge. Now, Hudson County Community College (HCCC) and New Jersey Reentry Corporation (NJRC) are providing previously incarcerated citizens a pathway to new beginnings through training for in-demand careers.
HCCC and NJRC recently celebrated reentry graduates of the college’s Welding and Culinary Arts programs with a presentation of certificates. The event was held at the Governor’s Reentry Training and Employment Center in Kearny, on November 2.
In attendance were NJRC founder and Chairman, former New Jersey Governor James McGreevey; HCCC President, Dr. Christopher Reber; HCCC Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Darryl Jones; Associate Vice President for Continuing Education and Workforce Development, Lori Margolin; Dean of Academic Affairs and Assessment, Dr. Heather DeVries; Dean of Business, Culinary Arts, and Hospitality Management, Dr. Ara Karakashian; and Dean of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, Dr. Burl Yearwood.
Dr. Reber called Governor McGreevey a “trailblazer who is changing lives” through NJRC, which helps those who were formerly incarcerated reestablish themselves within their communities.
“I have been inspired by the opportunity to see reentry students in action, and we all are so proud of them,” Dr. Reber said. “Graduates, all of you are going to have opportunities for good careers and family-sustaining wages. If you want to continue your education, you are now on a pathway to a degree and a better future,” he told the students.
Hudson County Community College is one of only ten community colleges in the United States to receive a $100,000 Metallica Scholars Initiative Cohort 4 grant to train previously incarcerated individuals for certification in welding. The American Welding Society reports that by 2025, the United States will be faced with a shortage of more than 400,000 welding professionals.
HCCC launched its first welding course in Spring 2022 as an elective in the College’s Advanced Manufacturing associate degree program. A noncredit version of the course incorporates basic welding skills with preparation for the Certified Welder Test accredited by the American Welding Society.
“It was a phenomenal class,” said welding certificate program graduate John Noonan. “I went in not knowing anything about welding. Showing up was half the task. When you open up, you learn, bounce ideas off each other, and get encouragement from teachers. And when you love what you do it ceases to be a job.”
HCCC’s nationally recognized Culinary Arts program helps students attain the knowledge and skills needed for a wide variety of careers. HCCC Culinary graduates include Chef Claude Lewis, founder and owner of Freetown Road Project, who earned international acclaim as a grand-prize winner of the Food Network’s Chopped competition, and many others who have achieved great success and national acclaim.
“This experience taught me discipline and dedication. It’s not hard if you show up and stay on track. Just come to school every day, learn, and do your cooking,” said Reubina Crayton, a Culinary Arts Hot Food Proficiency Certificate program graduate. “Thanks to everyone who made my dream possible – the NJRC family and HCCC for giving us the opportunity to better ourselves.”
Governor McGreevey thanked HCCC and said their partnership with NJRC is “the best in New Jersey.” He applauded the college for encouraging graduates to embark on new chapters in their lives.
“It is never too late for new beginnings. It is showing up and putting in the hard work,” Governor McGreevey said. “What’s extraordinary about this partnership is that Hudson County Community College is responding to the workforce development needs of the community. Traditionally, universities and colleges focus on academics. HCCC is also training people for careers, employment, and for an opportunity to rebuild and transform their lives.”