Opportunity Junction offers students a path forward
CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA (May 18, 2023) — Clayton resident Matt Tillman gains a sense of accomplishment by helping others achieve long-term employment and financial security through the non-profit Opportunity Junction.
“Individuals can go into hourly fast-food jobs, but it’s not necessarily a career for them. The objective of the organization is to be able to provide individuals with the ability to create long-term, sustainable careers,” says Tillman, who chairs the board of directors. “The night of the graduation, we have employers in the lobby ready to hire these graduates.”
Founded in 2000, Opportunity Junction began by providing free computer skills training mostly for single mothers. Recruitment is currently underway for the 71st Administrative Careers Training class out of the Antioch office.
In 2018, the John Muir Community Health Fund approached the group about expanding into health-care training. So, they partnered with Empowered Aging and Mt. Diablo Adult Education to launch a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) program – with classes now offered in Concord and Antioch.
Now, thanks to a $470,000 grant from Congressman Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord), Opportunity Junction is planning to start a Medical Assistant (MA) track next spring. “It’s a different career for people who aren’t interested in the intense patient contact of a CNA,” says new CEO Brianna Robinson. “It’s also a more traditional schedule, say 9-4, when doctors’ offices are open.”
Creating new opportunities
Applicants for any of the training programs must be age 18 or over, residents of Contra Costa County and meet an income requirement. “It’s pretty high; it’s not a federal poverty number,” Robinson says. “For example, a single mom with two kids – or any three-person household – needs to make less than $95,000 to qualify.”
The goal is to help people who want a full-time career but never thought formal education was obtainable.
“We’re looking for our folks to enter employment and make a difference in their lives, their families’ lives and the lives of the people they are touching through their work,” says Robinson.
“Our model is special because it’s full-time intensive training coupled with wrap-around support: career skills, professional skills, hot lunch, groceries on the weekend, mental health services, job placement assistance and lifetime alumni services,” she adds.
New administrative classes begin May 30, and the next CNA training starts Sept. 11. Those interested in the programs are encouraged to apply early. “We reach capacity each cycle, but we’re always looking for more people who are the right fit,” Robinson says.
Most graduates of the 12-week courses find immediate employment. Administrative opportunities include program coordinator, eligibility worker or property manager, while many CNAs work at skilled-nursing facilities in Central Contra Costa County. “CNAs are in high demand, and employers are begging,” Robinson notes.
Hector Sanchez, facility manager at San Miguel Villa in Concord, says he has hired at least 30 Opportunity Junction grads in just the last two years. The 190-bed skilled nursing facility also provides onsite clinical training for the students.
“If they like the environment, we can offer opportunities for a job at the end of the class,” Sanchez says. “It’s been amazing. This program has not only helped out our communities, but our skilled nursing facilities.”
New program for Contra Costa
The CNA training is so well-regarded that Gov. Gavin Newsom pointed to it as a model for statewide use. Meanwhile, the pending MA program will be the first such offering in Contra Costa. It will require an externship, so the training will take six to seven months.
“The job is not so much patient care as front- and back-office work, although they might take blood pressure or do injections. The medical assistant is the one who weighs you and asks questions as you’re waiting for the doctor,” Robinson says.
The federal grant will pay for a new class site, equipment, textbooks and other things necessary for one year – or three class cycles. After that, the non-profit will look to Tillman to assist in gathering new funding.
“What I brought to the organization is finding other individuals who become donors and supporters of Opportunity Junction,” says Tillman, noting that April’s Imagine Gala raised more than $200,000.
For more information or to donate, visit www.opportunityjunction.org.
Bev Britton graduated with a degree in journalism from the University of North Dakota and moved to the Bay Area with her soon-to-be husband Jim in 1986. She was features editor at the Contra Costa Times in Walnut Creek before becoming managing editor of the Contra Costa Sun in Lafayette in 1995. She retired from newsrooms in 2001, but an ad for the Clayton Pioneer drew her back in. The family moved to Lake Wildwood in the Gold Country a few years ago - but working at the Pioneer keeps her in touch with her old neighborhoods in Concord and Clayton.