Career Connection offers chance to get on right track

By CHRISTY ARMSTRONG  Banner Staff Writer
Posted 9/24/16

Months ago, Joshua Brooks could not envision himself where he is today — a man starting a promising new career.

Brooks, who describes himself as a “recovering addict,” has begun a new …

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Career Connection offers chance to get on right track


Months ago, Joshua Brooks could not envision himself where he is today — a man starting a promising new career.

Brooks, who describes himself as a “recovering addict,” has begun a new welding career thanks to a partnership between the local nonprofit organization The Refuge and Cleveland State Community College.

“I’ve been blessed by the help of everyone,” Brooks said. “I couldn’t have done it alone.” 

One of the most recent graduates of The Refuge’s Career Connection program, he also took advantage of an opportunity to receive welding training at the college.

Career Connection is a four-day course which gives adults the chance to learn how to use computer programs, like Microsoft Word and Excel, and develop a variety of other job skills. Classes cover everything from resume writing to resolving conflicts in the workplace.

Kelli Kyle, vice president of The Refuge, said the purpose of the class is to help adults who have had trouble finding work get on the right track.

Partnering with Cleveland State, students in the Career Connection program can also receive training in customer service and welding at the college.

“It’s several people working for the same purpose — to help people get the skills they need to earn good incomes,” Kyle said.

The college recently completed its first welding course with Career Connection students. A 30-hour course allowed 12 students to learn a basic MIG weld and receive American Welding Society certification.

Thirteen of the 15 graduates from August’s Career Connection have found jobs, said Kyle. With some of them entering in-demand fields like welding, some have also been able to start out making $15 or more.

“The evidence this program is working is obvious,” said Rick Creasy, executive director of the OneSource Workforce Readiness Center at Cleveland State. “Career Connection students are receiving training and getting jobs with livable wages.” 

Brooks said the program has offered him a second chance at a good career after having overcome drug addiction.

The 28-year-old credits several community organizations with helping him get on a better path. For example, the Salvation Army of Cleveland helped refer him to a drug rehabilitation program.

However, once he had “gotten clean,” Brooks had the task of figuring out what to do next. He was living in a halfway house and washing cars part-time when he heard about the Career Connection program.

Brooks grinned and explained he “went from being an addict to getting to decide between two $15-an-hour jobs.” 

He credits the Career Connection program with helping him learn how to present himself as a professional and begin working as a welder. He now works as a welder at Miller Industries in Ooltewah.

While Brooks said he is not proud of his past struggles with addiction, he wants others to know they can overcome addiction like he did.

“I learned it’s never too late to start over again,” Brooks said. “It’s never too late to get clean and work on having a new life.” 

“I have a different level of motivation now. I realized there is more to life than drugs, that you can become good at something and do good work.” 

Kyle said Brooks is just one recent graduate who has changed his own life with help from The Refuge.

Past graduates of the Career Connection program have included homeless individuals, who were able to move into homes of their own after finding good employment.

The vast majority of past Career Connection graduates were able to find work with their newfound skills, Kyle added.

The Career Connection program is offered to participants at a cost which is dependent on their income. Scholarships allow many low-income individuals to attend for free, said Kyle.

She offered her thanks United Way of the Ocoee Region, impact Cleveland, BB&T Bank and Volunteer Energy Cooperative for assistance with scholarships.

Creasy said Cleveland State is thrilled to continue to partner with The Refuge to add to its Career Connection program.

“I think this type of collaboration is what we want to continue to duplicate,” Creasy said. “People’s lives are being changed.” 

Another class of Career Connection students started Tuesday. The Refuge and Cleveland State will once again partner for a new Career Connection course in October.

For more information, visit or call 423-584-5211.


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