15 pioneer WorkFirst strategy

By Eric Stevick

Herald Writer

At the age of 40, Julie Wentz earned her high school diploma at night school.

Encouraged, the divorced Everett resident on public assistance enrolled in college classes while working as an office assistant and keeping tabs on her 4-year-old son. Along the way, she found herself wading through pre-algebra and other courses that seemed eons removed from her life.

Her career path shifted to technology last November when Edmonds Community College developed a pilot program to train students for computer jobs in WorkFirst, Washington’s welfare-to-work program.

On Wednesday afternoon, with Gov. Gary Locke there to shake their hands, Wentz and 14 other EdCC students received certificates confirming they had completed a rigorous computer-training program, including internships. Thirteen students recently passed software and hardware certification exams, which are required to work in certain computer jobs.

"It was a lot of hard work, a lot of stress, pure devotion," Wentz said.

Since November, the 15 students chosen from a pool of 47 applicants have been receiving basic information technology networking certification training from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. five days a week.

The students, with ages ranging from 20 to 45, were the first graduates in the state of the program specifically designed to help people with low incomes improve their lives through high-tech employment. Other pilot programs are offered at Bates Technical College in Tacoma and South Seattle Community College.

Although Wentz worked for Boeing in the 1980s, she felt ill-prepared for the workplace after years as a stay-at-home mother.

"I just didn’t have any skills," she said. "It was intimidating."

Today, she knows she has gained valuable technical skills and confidence.

Wentz and three classmates had a monthlong internship with the Everett School District’s information systems department. Scott Jenkins, Everett district’s information systems training and support supervisor, was impressed with the eagerness, hard work and communication skills of the students.

"They were hungry to get out into the workplace," Jenkins said.

Steve Saldana, 33, of Lynnwood moved to the area more than a year ago, hoping to find work in the aviation industry. He didn’t, and eventually found himself applying for food stamps to help support his wife and child.

On Wednesday, he told his fellow graduates, college officials and other welfare-to-work supporters they had provided "a hope we always wanted but never thought we could be part of."

"The gift of learning has awakened me," he said.

State officials touted the WorkFirst program, saying more than 145,000 people have gone to work since the program began in 1997. During the same time, the state’s welfare caseload dropped by 44 percent, they said.

Locke told the students they represented more than themselves and their families in earning their certificates. They helped other low-income wage earners looking to climb out of poverty.

"If you had not successfully completed this program, we would have declared the program a failure," the governor said. "But since all of you did complete it, we are not just declaring it an outstanding success, but we are looking for ways to expand it."

You can call Herald Writer Eric Stevick at 425-339-3446

or send e-mail to stevick@heraldnet.com.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Ariel Garcia, 4, was last seen Wednesday morning in an apartment in the 4800 block of Vesper Dr. (Photo provided by Everett Police)
How to donate to the family of Ariel Garcia

Everett police believe the boy’s mother, Janet Garcia, stabbed him repeatedly and left his body in Pierce County.

A ribbon is cut during the Orange Line kick off event at the Lynnwood Transit Center on Saturday, March 30, 2024 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
‘A huge year for transit’: Swift Orange Line begins in Lynnwood

Elected officials, community members celebrate Snohomish County’s newest bus rapid transit line.

Bethany Teed, a certified peer counselor with Sunrise Services and experienced hairstylist, cuts the hair of Eli LeFevre during a resource fair at the Carnegie Resource Center on Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in downtown Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Carnegie center is a one-stop shop for housing, work, health — and hope

The resource center in downtown Everett connects people to more than 50 social service programs.

Everett mall renderings from Brixton Capital. (Photo provided by the City of Everett)
Topgolf at the Everett Mall? Mayor’s hint still unconfirmed

After Cassie Franklin’s annual address, rumors circled about what “top” entertainment tenant could be landing at Everett Mall.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Stanwood in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Stanwood man gets federal prison for selling fentanyl on dark web

In 2013, Christerfer Frick was sentenced to nine years for trafficking drugs. He began selling online upon his release in 2020.

Molbak's Garden + Home in Woodinville, Washington closed on Jan. 28 2024. (Photo courtesy of Molbak's)
Molbak’s, former Woodinville garden store, hopes for a comeback

Molbak’s wants to create a “hub” for retailers and community groups at its former Woodinville store. But first it must raise $2.5 million.

A fire at a home near Alderwood Mall sent one neighbor and one firefighter to the hospital. (Photo provided by South County Fire)
Officials: Residents returned to burning Lynnwood home to rescue dogs

Five people and six dogs were displaced in the Thursday afternoon house fire, according to South County Fire.

Featuring a pink blush over a yellow background, WA 64 combines qualities of Honeycrisp and Cripps Pink (aka Pink Lady) for a firm, crisp, sweet and tart bite. A naming contest for the new apple runs through May 5, 2024. (Photo provided by Washington State University)
Hey Honeycrisp, this new breed of apple needs a name

Enter a naming contest for WA 64, a hybrid apple with the same baby daddy as Cosmic Crisp.

Police respond to a wrong way crash Thursday night on Highway 525 in Lynnwood after a police chase. (Photo provided by Washington State Department of Transportation)
Lynnwood woman, 83, killed in wrong-way crash following police pursuit

Deputies said they were chasing a man, 37, south on Highway 525 when he swerved into northbound lanes, killing an oncoming driver.

A memorial with small gifts surrounded a utility pole with a photograph of Ariel Garcia at the corner of Alpine Drive and Vesper Drive ion Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Death of Everett boy, 4, spurs questions over lack of Amber Alert

Local police and court authorities were reluctant to address some key questions, when asked by a Daily Herald reporter this week.

People walk along the waterfront in front of South Fork Bakery at the Port of Everett on Thursday, April 11, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Port of Everett inks deal with longtime Bothell restaurant

The port will break ground on two new buildings this summer. Slated for completion next year, Alexa’s Cafe will open in one of them.

The new Amazon fulfillment center under construction along 172nd Street NE in Arlington, just south of Arlington Municipal Airport. (Chuck Taylor / The Herald) 20210708
Frito-Lay leases massive building at Marysville business park

The company will move next door to Tesla and occupy a 300,0000-square-foot building at the Marysville business park.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.