Training center offers a fresh start

March 19, 2009 7:17:26 PM PDT
Because of the recession, charitable giving is down across the country. But in the Bay Area, there is one non-profit organization that has managed to keep on giving millions to local programs, even in these tough times.

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A fresh start can be a life-changing gift. At least that is what students at the Cyrpress Mandela Training Center are hoping. Despite the down economy, they and their classmates are benefitting from the generosity of those who still have something to give.

"We've given out $33 million since July 1 of 2008," said Nicole Taylor, president and CEO of the East Bay Community Foundation, which is devoted to improving economic and educational opportunities for those in need.

"Even in these hard economic times, our donors are realizing now is not the time to retrench," said Taylor. "We're realizing that we need to make sure that our dollars hit the streets so that the people in need get the resources that they need."

The East Bay Community Foundation has given out 40 grants in recent months, including one to the Cypress Mandela Center.

Oakland's Cedric Wiley is a Mandela graduate. After years as a struggling landscaper, Wiley now has a new calling in construction thanks to the center's 16-week training program.

"Cypress, I believe, is helping to give people who want to change their lives a chance at stepping out into the community to do something positive," said Wiley.

At the Mandela Center, they not only give their students the skills to be successful on a job site, but away from it as well.

"We teach them how to get up on time, how to dress, how to talk, how to be nutritionally fit," said Arthur Shanks, executive director of the center.

Shanks says the life training is especially important when you consider many of the students are coming out of jail or were once involved in drugs or gangs.

"Most of the individuals who come here are disenfranchised, underemployed, unemployed, come from backgrounds with limited training or no training at all," said Shanks.

The job placement and retention rate for Mandela graduates is 85 to 90 percent. That is especially important in Oakland, where the unemployment rate is 14 percent.

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