Per Scholas program gives free IT training to low-income adults as a path out of poverty

'It's not just a job. It's a career.'

UPDATE: The Scripps Howard Foundation awarded a grant of $20,000 to Per Scholas, an amount that will support information technology job training for more than 30 men and women in the coming year.

Bob Carson, vice president and chief information officer at the E.W. Scripps Company, is a member of the Per Scholas Cincinnati advisory board and approached the corporate foundation for financial support for the organization. 

"We are grateful for the financial support from the Scripps Howard Foundation, which allows us to continue to provide technology-focused training to people in Cincinnati who are in need," Paul Cashen, the managing director of Per Scholas Cincinnati, said in a news release.

CINCINNATI — After more than a decade of working as a restaurant server, Aaron Mingo was ready for a change.

He ached for a job with benefits, paid time off and a steady paycheck that he could count on to help support his young family.

He got one at The Christ Hospital — as a field engineer in information technology infrastructure.

"IT is one of those few career fields where if you can walk the walk, talk the talk and pass the tests, you can work pretty much anywhere," said Mingo, 33. "It's not just a job. It's a career."

Mingo owes his new career to Per Scholas, a nonprofit with a Cincinnati office at the CityLink Center in the West End. The organization started in New York City and also has locations in Atlanta, Georgia; Columbus, Ohio; Dallas, Texas; and Silver Spring, Maryland.

VIDEO: Watch Mingo and a current Per Scholas student discuss the program in the media player above.

Per Scholas offers free IT job training to low-income adults. Participants must compete to be part of the eight-week program, which has strict rules about attendance and being on time.

Aaron Mingo working at The Christ Hospital in Mount Auburn. Emily Maxwell | WCPO

"This is one of the few fields remaining today where you can start as an entry-level technician and, it might take you five or six years, but you can become a chief technology officer or a chief information officer," said Paul Cashen, managing director of Per Scholas in Cincinnati.

In the three years that Per Scholas has operated in Cincinnati, it has helped 150 graduates get jobs with average starting salaries of $30,000 per year. More than 80 percent of its graduates get jobs, and 82 percent of those jobs have benefits.

Breaking the Cycle of Poverty

Per Scholas provides technical training in addition to coaching participants on interviewing, how to write an effective resume and other non-technical skills.

At the end of the eight weeks, participants take exams for industry certifications. Graduates typically get jobs within 90 to 100 days of completing the program, Cashen said.

And while the mission of Per Scholas is to break the "cycle of poverty by providing high-quality technology education, job training, placement and career development opportunities," its participants do have to meet certain minimum requirements.

Participants must be at least 18 years old, and they must have a high school degree or GED. They also must be able to pass a test of basic literacy, which requires them to be able to read and do math at a 10th grade level at least.

Students in a Per Scholas course at CityLink Center in the West End. Emily Maxwell | WCPO

About 40 percent of the people who take part in the program have some college education. Typically, they are people who had to drop out after running up debt they couldn't afford, Cashen said.

They can earn as much as 250 percent of the federal poverty threshold and still take part in the program. For a single parent with two children, that would be a household income of $47,740 or less.

The average household income of a typical Per Scholas participant is about $23,000.

About 10 percent of Per Scholas participants are veterans, Cashen said. Roughly 65 percent are minorities, and about 30 percent are women, he said.

The program gets between 50 and 100 applications for each of its eight-week sessions, and the Per Scholas staff selects about 20 of them to participate.

Thriving — Not Just Surviving

Danyale Marshall is in the current class.

Marshall is 36 and has a 14-year-old son. She has had entry-level jobs in IT before but now has a job doing claims for a health care company.

The job pays $16 and hour, but she only gets about 20 hours per week, Marshall said.

She is hoping that her training at Per Scholas will pave the way for a full-time job with benefits, a steady paycheck and job security.

That job security part is especially important because she has had two severance packages in the last two years.

Marshall said she appreciates the team approach at Per Scholas.

Danyale Marshall during a Per Scholas class at the CityLink Center. Emily Maxwell | WCPO

"Everyone's willing to help you and hold your hand if necessary or offer their hand for help," she said. "From Google hangouts to meeting in the mornings before class — even our instructors staying late."

Marshall's goal, she said, is to become qualified for IT project management or to do quality assurance testing.

"Just more so of being at a place where it's stability and not being the first one in line to get a severance package," she said. "Not being disposable."

'My Job Matters'

The training has made a world of difference for Mingo, his wife and three sons.

"He's a whole different person," said his wife, Saadia Mingo. "Now he walks straighter. You can see he's brighter in spirit. You can see just the happiness in him."

Mingo now has more time to spend with his wife and sons in the evenings and on weekends. He can attend get-togethers with his extended family. And he's preparing to take his first-ever paid day off.

Aaron Mingo with his wife Saadia and their three boys. Emily Maxwell | WCPO

He is such a believer in the power of the program that Mingo has recommended several other people to Per Scholas, including his nephew.

"He wants other people to experience it and have it," Saadia Mingo said. "He wants to change other people's lives."

And Mingo likes his new job so much that he didn't even mind the first time he was on call in case something went wrong with the hospital's IT system at night or over the weekend.

"I felt important," he said. "It's like my job matters more than, 'Hey — come here. I want another water.' It was like, something important needs to be taken care of."

And thanks to the training Mingo got at Per Scholas, he's just the person to take care of it.

For more information about Per Scholas, click here.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and also shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Childhood poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO.

To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.

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