In 1994, with unemployment high, Pierce College, like many other community colleges, decided to launch a program to help people find jobs. Twenty years later, the program is one of the last few standing.
“This program is different than others,” said Evelyn Brooks, the Pierce Works manager, who has steered the program since its beginning. “It’s very in-depth and comprehensive and gets to the core of the person, helping people look within themselves and redefine themselves.”
Many who have come through the program see it as a turning point in their lives, and Brooks is credited by many as a big contributor to that.
“She helps you see the things you don’t see, or the things you don’t want to see in yourself or others, whether good or bad,” said Nikki Jackola, who went through the seven-week program in October 2009. “She lifts you up. It’s absolutely amazing.”
In July 2009, Jackola lost her position as a third-party workman’s compensation claims representative, managing claims for Washington state employees.
“I loved my job so much, and it was really hard to get over the loss and grieving I felt after building relationships with my clients,” Jackola said.
Jackola at the time had excellent references and was solid on the-job-work experience — she’d been working since age 15. Two other jobs offered to her were soon off the table because policies required she have special certifications and a college degree in human resources. Jackola had neither at the time.
On a visit to the Tacoma WorkSource office, while taking unemployment benefits, Jackola had a chance meeting with a someone who steered her toward Pierce Works.
Jackola said the program offered her resources and helped her sharpen her skills, but she said it offered so much more.
“Opening and trusting this program allows you to look at the mental and emotional parts of your life and make changes for yourself to be successful, whatever you do,” Jackola said. “It brought things out that I had to face from my past.”
Greg Kronlund, another 2009 graduate of the program, enjoyed his experience so much he decided to assist Brooks part time.
“Since I’ve had this job at Pierce College, my attitude has been, ‘I get to go to work, not I have to go to work,’ ” Kronlund said.
Kronlund was laid off from his broadcast sales job in March 2009, after 41 years of professional experience. He, too, discovered Pierce Works in October 2009.
Kronlund said before entering the program, he felt it was the end of the road for him. But Pierce Works — and Brooks’ mentoring — changed his way of thinking. He said he realized he had the potential to reset his career.
Brooks said a large part of the seven weeks is spent helping people recognize their talents and how to transfer those talents from job to job.
“One component is helping students translate their skills,” Brooks said. “Just seeing students grab hold of the tools that are there is exciting.”
Brooks said she uses a lot of visuals and experiential learning practices to get her message across.
“I’m animated,” she said. “I dress up based on what I’m teaching. We do assessments and define where your skills are at. We validate who they are.”
For some students, the experience gives them a new reason to live, to hope and to dream.
Chris Deputy, who was recently diagnosed with sarcoma — a form of cancer — was given a less than a 50 percent chance to live. She was laid off from her job and she said she was preparing herself to die. But when she entered the Pierce Works program, that changed.
“I started to live,” she said. “I was able to reclaim my life.”
Today, Deputy is attending Pierce College and this year has made the President’s List. She’s getting all A’s in math and has aspirations to work at NASA.
Meanwhile, Jackola has gone on to receive four separate associates degrees and six certificates. During her last quarter at Pierce College, she opened a business at the South Hill Mall with her mother, Deanna Largent.
“The foundation of Pierce College and the Pierce Works program absolutely attributed to me moving forward with my business,” Jackola said.
if you go
Pierce Works is a seven-week class open to those who have been in the workforce and have received unemployment benefits in the past 24 months. The class has been approved by Employment Security and meets weekly work search requirements. Students receive 20 college credits and are deemed a student of Pierce College with all the rights and privileges. For more information, contact Evelyn Brooks at 253-840-8428 or Greg Kronlund at 253-864-3328 or go to pierceworksworks.com. Classes are at the Arts and Allied Health building of Pierce College Puyallup.Andrew Fickes: 253-552-7001 andrew.fickes @puyallupherald.com Twitter: @herald_andrew