Graduation Ceremony Honors Workforce Development Participants

July 1, 2016 | Chicago, IL

Bridge Program Graduates

Bridge program graduates pose for a group photo following the Friday evening ceremony. The program equips graduates with skills to advance their careers and become leaders. FILE PHOTO

The workforce development department at Erie Neighborhood House honored its bridge program graduates on Friday, June 24, during a ceremony held at the agency’s historic settlement house location.

In total, 140 graduates in three bridge program areas—healthcare, manufacturing and technology—received certificates for successfully completing their respective coursework. The evening event also featured remarks by senior leadership at Erie House and a host of festivities, including food, live music and performances by youth representing a local balet folklórico dance ensemble.

“For many of our students, completing one of our bridge programs is a life-changing event,” says Judy Lai, director of workforce development at Erie House. “The typical adult learner must forfeit personal time, secure child care, and make other sacrifices in order to achieve their goals—it’s a big deal.”

According to Lai, roughly half of the graduates will enter into advanced training as a result of their participation in the Erie House bridge program. More often than not this translates into new career possibilities and increased earning potential for participants.

It also lends a strong sense of optimism. “It’s that eureka moment for our participants. It lets them know they can do it, that the journey toward a new, more fulfilling career is attainable,” explains Lai, who encouraged graduates to keep taking steps forward in that journey during her address Friday evening.

The Erie House workforce development program emerged in 2007 in order to extend the impact of traditional adult education initiatives, such as English as a second language (ESL) and adult literacy, by giving students industry-specific knowledge and the support they need for career advancement in their respective field through the Pathways to Success initiative.

"Our hope is to provide the tools and skill set our participants need so they can advance their careers and achieve a better life for themselves and their families,” says executive director Kirstin Chernawsky. She notes that the program carries the dual impact of empowering individuals while at the same time supplying the job force with skilled employees.

“We believe our workforce development program is a smart, sound investment,” says Chernawsky, “and we are proud of the sense of empowerment our participants develop in the process.”

Students enrolled in the manufacturing bridge program receive training to become a computer numerical control (CNC) machinist, but the course also lays a foundation for other industry jobs. In the healthcare bridge program, students gain skills and training necessary to find employment as a medical assistant as well as other roles in the allied healthcare field. Technology courses cover a variety of topics related to computer use and equip students with skills for professional settings as well as everyday life.

Once students graduate from an Erie House bridge program, they are supported by transitions coordinator Maria Piña, data and retention specialist Ignacio Medina and job developer Jesús Rodriguez. Together they strive to assist students in translating their classroom achievements into success in the workplace.

“Helping our students find a job or enroll in an advanced training program is very rewarding,” says Lai, who has served in the workforce development field for close to a decade. “It provides motivation for our team and reminds us why this work is so important.”

Both the healthcare and manufacturing bridge programs at Erie House offer free tuition thanks to funding from the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, Chicago Community Trust, Fry Foundation and JPMorgan Chase. The Erie House technology program charges a nominal tuition fee ranging from $25 to $150, depending on the course length and content.

For more information on enrolling in one of the bridge programs at Erie House, please contact Jesús Rodriguez at or (312) 432-2268.


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