Donning pink and yellow hard hats, a group of 11 women sported a distinctly different look than most graduating classes at commencement.
“Graduates, we are here for you,” said Raymond Bishop, president of Goodwill of North Georgia, in his opening remarks. “This is a very special day for all our graduates.”
The women were graduates of a seven-week job training construction program representing a partnership between the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission and the Goodwill of North Georgia Training 2 Work Program.
Their common background? They were all housed in the Arrendale Transitional Center for offenders about to transition back to society.
Their job coach, Rodney Hamilton with Goodwill, said that in order to teach the women the skill of physically creating things, they had to start with some emotional building blocks.
“In order to build something, they had to tear other walls down,” Hamilton said. “These were women in construction, but in the two weeks we were together they were women under construction.”
Helping empower former offenders has been an initiative supported by Gov. Nathan Deal, speakers said. Deal created the Governor’s Office of Transition, Support and Reentry a little more than one year ago as part of ongoing criminal justice reform efforts, which seek to lower recidivism rates.
John Phillips, GMRC Workforce Development director, read remarks Deal wrote for the women praising their step toward employment and a promising future in society.
“‘I look forward to the many contributions you will have to the state of Georgia,’” Phillips read.
Tim Mauldin, superintendent of the Arrendale Transitional Center, said the program was a “broad but thorough” overview of the ways to attain and maintain gainful employment.
Presenters played a 10-minute video documenting the women’s journey. In phase 1, the women learned basic skills, such as interviewing, writing resumes and workplace communication. By phase 3, they were doing on- the-job training for the Department of Transportation or Habitat for Humanity of Hall County.
Their phase 2 projects, two children’s playhouses, will be auctioned with proceeds to go to Habitat, organizers said.
The day was joyous for the women, and a few in particular: Saving the best news for last, Phillips announced four women awaiting the outcome of interviews with construction companies, to their surprise and delight, had already been hired.
In his commencement speech of sorts, Chan Caudell, chief judge in the Superior Court of the Mountain Judicial Circuit, told the women to be calm and contemplative as they applied the lessons to real life.
“Be careful with your words. Speak them slowly,” he said. “Don’t be the one who spreads rumors and creates chaos.”
Set the tone for the whole workplace, he said.
“Be positive,” he said. “If you think negative thoughts, you will act negatively.”