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Thursday afternoon was the graduation ceremony for the fourth class of the Reno Works program. The City of Reno also celebrated the first anniversary of the program. Proud family members, excited community members and swollen, tearful eyes were a common sight during the many speeches and the handing out of certificates.

As Mike Higdon previously reported, the Reno Works program is run by the City of Reno and Volunteers of America (VOA). The program accepts homeless individuals living in the VOA shelters and provides them with life-skills training, education, and employment opportunities during the 10-week session.

The goal is to help the homeless individuals get steady work and find a home. According to the City of Reno, 26 of 27 graduates from the program have avoided a return to homelessness.

Reno City Councilwoman Neoma Jardon emceed the event and introduced various speakers, which included VOA’s director Pat Cashell, Stacie Mathewson, Reno business leaders and past grads from the program.

To date, four classes have graduated from the program since its inception last fall.

As emotions betrayed the speakers and caused a difficulty in speaking, you could not shake the positivity and sense of renewal felt at Reno City Hall.

Eight individuals graduated from the program this session.

“We saw a number of prior graduates here today supporting this graduating class,” Jardon said. “And it’s important that those prior graduates come back and show us an example of how, if you keep working the program, keep working hard, have structure and responsibility, you can have success for the long-term. I have great hope for the graduates of today, I think they’re going to do great.”

We spoke with two of the graduates after the graduation to learn more of their experiences and time with Reno Works.

We first spoke with Xavier House and his mother Ulrica Foster-House. Xavier, 20, is one of the youngest graduates of Reno Works and has recently secured employment as ESI Security.

How did you end up participating in Reno Works?

Xavier: I’m from California. (We moved to Reno) like three years ago.

I did become homeless like three months ago. My mom was telling me there’s a program called Reno Works and they help you get a job. So I was like—yeah I can get into that. So I put in the application. You get picked between like 22 people, only 10 people get picked. I wasn’t sure I was going to get picked and I was like, “Oh I hope I do.” Then I got a letter saying “Congratulation you got on the Reno Works” and I just liked it from then on.

How was your time with Reno Works?

Xavier: I liked it but it was work. But we were outside, helping the community, so that really touched my heart. I liked it a lot.

First we picked up by the river, cleaned the river. Then we went to go paint by the Cal Neva, we finished painting the garages and stuff, so that was pretty good. Then we went to the park and started pulling weeds, cleaning up the parks that were around. That was pretty good.

You've recently started working with a security company in town. How has it been?

Xavier: This will be my third week on it. And I like it, it’s been good. I’ve gotten to work some of the events going on. So I’m excited.

What are the benefits of Reno Works?

Xavier: You can sometimes get housing. You do get a job that you want or that is good fitted for you. Mostly they’ll let you pick what you want, but if it gets too close (to the end of the program) and you haven’t found something you want, they’ll push you to get something else more standard.

Ulrica: For me, I didn’t have to teach him the budgeting and the financial things, the resume writing, and the getting dressed for the interview and preparing—Reno Works did that for me. Mom got to skip out on that one!

How do you feel now that you’ve completed and graduated from Reno Works?

Xavier: I am excited, happy. I almost cried. I usually don’t cry for things but I did almost did cry today. I’m most excited for me and my coworkers that worked with me through the Reno Works program. And I’m glad most of us all made it.

Ulrica: I was holding up until I heard him talking and then I just opened up the water buckets. I am really happy because he’s learning stuff that would take most people years to learn; how to go for it, what to do, motivation—and they did it as a group. I stayed out of it. I hardly saw him the whole time he was doing that. It was all him working hard. I really appreciate that. Mom stayed out of it. Mom just came in at the end to cry. I really appreciate that because it sometimes take people into their 30’s and 40’s what he learned in those 10 weeks. I’m really excited about it. I know he knows what he wants to do. I know how he wants to do it. I know now he’s prepared to do it and it makes me feel at ease.

Barbara Aleman, 28, is a single mother of four. Her daughters were present at the graduation, cheering her on.

How did you end up participating with Reno Works?

I moved to Reno with my ex. We moved up here because we thought he had an apartment. But we were bouncing from motel to motel and he kicked us out. And we went to the shelter and I was nice enough to have him come with us. And when we were there, he left. He left about three days before I started Reno Works. And I didn’t think I was going to finish (Reno Works). I said no, I’m not going to do it. I was going to follow him but I’m glad I didn’t because, I mean, look at me now. I’m here! I did it!

What is up next for you?

My next step is to move into my apartment and stay there. And have a shelter for my children and keep on forward. I’m not looking back ever.

I am going to see about getting a job with the City. I’m (currently) working at Goodwill— I work at the donation center.

How do you feel after completing and graduating from Reno Works?

This is amazing, I just feel overwhelmed. I feel so enthused to be able to do this. I just feel like I conquered the world. I’m so excited, I’m feeling so mixed up. Like, I feel happy, I feel excited, I feel just—gosh—I feel overwhelmed! Most of all, I feel proud because of my kids--

"-- I feel great for my awesome mom," one of Barbara's daughters interjected.

I love my kids. I want to thank everyone in Reno for helping me. I knew when I came back here, something good was going to happen. And it did! I’ve bettered my life!

To learn more of the Reno Works program, click here.

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