Getting a fresh start in life is not always easy.
Just ask Reggie Johnson, who rode his bike every day to a program designed to give him the training he needed for a better job -- even as he worked a night job.
While Johnson put a lot of his own sweat, time and attention toward getting the skills for a better career opportunity, he acknowledges he didn't do it on his own.
The mentors at Suncoast Community Capital helped provide the motivation he needed to be among the agency's first graduates from their Bridges to Careers course.
"When I first started, I felt like I was looking up at a mountain," Johnson said. "But these people inspired me."
The graduating class is self-described as close-knit and supportive, and students say their fellow graduates have become like family.
Jessica Ruter, an academic coach and the manager of financial stability initiatives at Suncoast Community Capital, called this class of 11 students the "Class of New Beginnings."
Bridges to Careers is a five-week career readiness program. The program was founded in 2011 by CareerEdge, an organization that strives to provide a strong, dependable labor force to growing industries. CareerEdge, Jane's Trust and Microsoft Unlimited Potential funded the program, investing $30,000 to provide Bridges to Careers at the Suncoast Community Capital.
CareerEdge also sponsors the program at Goodwills around the area.
"We want to touch people who live in different areas, from North Bradenton to South Sarasota," said Mireya Eavey, the executive director of CareerEdge
The program appears successful, with students going on to jobs in manufacturing, health care and companies like IMG.
Graduate Terance Lawrence has already landed a building maintenance job at IMG.
"It is not just a matter of providing education, but also inspiring a sense of self-worth," said Eavey. "That is more than half the battle."
Academic coach Jessica Ruter says this is one of Bridges to Careers' many success stories, adding that there were no class drop-outs.
"The people involved have cared enough to show me what I was doing wrong and how to correct it. It means a lot to me," said graduate Kevin Adams.
Eavey said the program provides intensive training in computer use, Microsoft Word, personal finance and budgeting, and math and reading courses.
The program also provides professional training, in which students learn about proper work attire, work ethic and the interview process.
Students also learn how to write resumes and participate in company tours and job shadowings.
Mike Kennedy, the CEO of Suncoast Community Capital, said that Bridges to Careers benefits both students and future employers.
"Bridges equips students with real-world skills that are relevant and useful to employers these days," said Kennedy.
Graduates receive a Florida Ready to Work certificate at the end of the course. Bridges to Careers also assists students who are working on their GED.
The program operates under the philosophy of community involvement.
Daisy Vulovich, the associate vice president of corporate and community development at the State College of Florida, worked with students in digital literacy, helping them understand the role that computer technology plays in the workforce.
Sherod Halliburton, the executive vice president of strategic initiatives at the Manatee County Federal Credit Union, helped lead a workshop on financial literacy.
Students with Bridges to Careers also have volunteer mentors who help them stay encouraged throughout the course.
The program also encourages students to give back to the community by having volunteer days at the homeless shelter One Stop.
"It is never too late to start," said graduate Monica Compton, who, at 48, was the oldest in the class. "I was a procrastinator, but not any more. Now, I'm a finisher."
The next class of students at Suncoast Community Capital will begin in late April. There is space available for 19 students.
Individuals interested in applying for the next Bridges class or serving as a volunteer mentor can contact Jessica Ruter at 941-744-2666, ext. 2.
Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her @EricaBEarl