Working part time as a waitress and raising two kids, Tessa Burgmeier decided she needed to make a career change.

“It was tough trying to make ends meet and get everything the kids need plus what I need,” the North Vernon resident said. “It just wasn’t working.”

She visited the Jackson County Learning Center in Seymour last spring and came across the WorkOne Southeast office.

There, she met Charlotte Gunter, employment and training specialist/business services, who helped her start the paperwork process of enrolling in certified nursing assistant classes.

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Once Burgmeier completed some adult basic education remediation and got her paperwork approved, she went through three weeks of training in Sellersburg and New Albany. In May, she passed the CNA test, received her license and began a full-time job as a CNA at Lutheran Community Home in Seymour.

All of this was made possible with a Hands-Up scholarship, a nearly year-old program in Jackson County that helps WorkOne clients achieve their goals and eliminate barriers related to becoming employed.

“It has been a blessing for sure, definitely,” the 21-year-old said.

When she was a student at Jennings County High School, Burgmeier took some CNA classes in Versailles but dropped out her last semester, partly because of the cost.

The Hands-Up scholarship paid for everything she needed to land her job.

Now, she’s interested in furthering her education to become a registered nurse. WorkOne will help with that, too.

“It’s just getting there (WorkOne) and wanting to do it, wanting to have a better future and get an education, that’s it,” Burgmeier said. “They’ve been great. They’ve helped me, and I’ve barely had to do anything. Just show up and be there and show that I’m interested, that’s about it.”

Of her job at Lutheran Community Home, Burgmeier said, “It’s going great. I love it here. I love the people I work with, love what I do. But I’m definitely going to go on and get my LPN and hopefully my RN.”

‘What are the obstacles?’

Hands-Up is a collaboration among WorkOne, the Jackson County Education Coalition and the Community Foundation of Jackson County. Dan Hodge, executive director of the coalition, said the concept was taken from an already established program in Harrison County.

“I think what was important was that this type of program basically said, ‘What are the obstacles for people to get employed?’” Hodge said. “We were then trying to find a way to overcome those obstacles. I think that’s what really intrigued us about starting a program.”

The education coalition received $5,000, the community foundation managed the program funds, and WorkOne assisted and distributed the funds to the recipients.

“I think it shows a group of us collaborated and thought outside the box to come up with a unique program that maybe changed a few lives for a minimal amount of investment,” Hodge said.

The initial goal was to help eight people, but it wound up benefiting 19. Hodge said 13 are employed, and some of the others are still going to school.

“I definitely think that it shows there’s a need for this type of program,” he said. “Other communities, other counties have asked about this type of program and are looking at trying to replicate something very similar.”

Dan Davis, executive director of the foundation, said it was good to be a part of the program.

“We’re happy to partner with them on these projects to help improve life in Jackson County and people trying to get ahead,” he said.

‘We have changed her life’

In helping clients find employment, Gunter said, WorkOne does what it can to exhaust all other funds. If that comes up short, Hands-Up is an option. She said it’s used as a last resort.

“It has been a great resource for us. It has been wonderful,” she said. “It’s just something we always keep in the back of our mind. If we don’t have enough money, if we need more funds, we know we have Hands-Up that we can utilize, which is awesome.”

Seeing the success stories of Hands-Up, including Burgmeier’s, has been fulfilling, Gunter said.

“We have changed her life — her income, she lives on her own now with her kids — which is exactly what WorkOne is about. It is about overcoming the barriers to become self-sufficient,” Gunter said. “When you see those success stories, and you see those people, I think about the first day (Burgmeier) came in, and it amazes me. I am so thankful.”

Gunter said some people mistake WorkOne for an unemployment office. It’s in fact the opposite. Among the services offered are short- and long-term training, resume and interview workshops, connecting employers with prospective employees and a hiring program for convicted felons.

“I think once they get in the door and they figure out what we can help them with, then they sometimes even begin to have hope again,” Gunter said.

Having community partners on board makes a big difference, too, she said.

“It’s amazing to me the different partners in the community that come together to make this work,” she said. “Jackson County is very, very lucky to have the support system they have. People just need to take advantage of it.”

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The Hands-Up scholarship program is designed to assist WorkOne clients achieve their goals and eliminate barriers to becoming employed.

It’s a partnership among WorkOne Southeast, the Jackson County Education Coalition and the Community Foundation of Jackson County.

In 2014, the first year of the program locally, it benefited 19 people.

To find out more about about the program or to help fund it, contact Dan Hodge at 812-271-1123.


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