By Jim Elias
The Muscatine Center for Social Action connected with Muscatine Community College to help build a pathway out of poverty for area homeless. Last Friday, MCC hosted a debut of the Pathways From Poverty documentary and a Community Success reception to celebrate the life change experienced for six Muscatine individuals.

By partnering with local businesses needing skilled workers, the college secured funding from Iowa Works and teamed up with MCSA, MCC instructors, and coaches to create a special welding training program.

Scott Dahlke, Program Director for Muscatine Center for Social Action, explained to the Voice of Muscatine that he’d been talking with local businesses about the agency’s Adopt-A-Day campaign and quickly discovered a big need for trained welders. At a United Way meeting, Dahlke had a conversation with former MCC President Bob Allbee, who connected him with Business Solutions Consultant Katie Watson at the college.

“A week later we were putting people in school,” said Dahlke.

The community connections, driven by MCC’s Watson, first included Iowa Works, which provided funding for tuition as well as steel-toed shoes and other personal protective equipment the students needed to be successful in a new job.

Next came connections with five area manufacturing employers, including Raymond, Union Tank Car, Wilton Precision Steel, Hoffman, Inc., and SSAB. Once students were enrolled in the MCC welding program, they toured these local companies to see the variety in locations as well as the types of welding skills needed.

The Pathway from Poverty program not only gave these individuals much-needed welding training, but it also gave them social skills and career readiness training, and certification credentials the participants can add to their resume. Upon completing the first week of the program, students took the Real Colors Personality Assessment, and they earned an NCRC-Gold National Career Readiness Certification and a 10-hour OSHA Certification. After completing the entire program, students earned a 150-hour Basic Weld Certificate from MCC.

In addition to the technical welding skills, blueprint reading, and math, the students received life-skills training in time management, work expectations, resume building, interview, and communication skills.

“Getting them tied in to the college was not something any of them thought was possible,” said Dahlke of this group of individuals. “They were just trying to find the next part-time job, just trying to make sense of the chaos in life.  Putting those credentials in place at the very beginning was such an asset.”

Beyond this first wave of training, Katie Watson says there are still roadblocks for the program to overcome. “We still struggle with things like transportation,” says Watson. “Yeah, they may have the training, but they might not have a car or license to be able to get to the job. What can come next is to continue this community conversation to see how else others in the community can be partners.”

The documentary, Pathways From Poverty, tells the story of the program and how other businesses and community members can become involved.

“These individuals struggle with their support system,” adds Dahlke. “What is really needed next is to build an even bigger support system behind them.”