Mary, 69, did not expect to be job hunting during her retirement. But after battling and beating cancer, and racking up extensive medical expenses, she found herself needing to go back to work. She initially began by taking classes through Merced College’s Business Resource Center. As she puts it, Mary has always used the college to “restart.” Despite searching for a work solution for four years that could accommodate her health needs and allow her to work from home, Mary had not found anything.
On December 13th 2013, Mary, alongside nineteen other Merced College students, graduated from the first-ever SamaUSA program in the area. SamaUSA, a program operated under Samasource, targets low-income community college students for online work. The program aims to help these students earn extra income through online work, so they can graduate college and increase their life-time earning potential. SamaUSA prepares students like Mary to market their skills effectively on online platforms, including oDesk and Elance, while training students in soft skills, computer skills, digital literacy, and entrepreneurship.
After completing the training program, Mary says she’s finally “retired into a good thing.” And that sentiment was shared by others in her cohort. Bob, a computer network engineer with twenty years of experience, expressed gratitude for finding a new avenue to leverage his skills. He recently found himself out of work and chose to enroll at Merced College to increase his employment prospects. Despite years in the computer industry, he says he “still didn’t have a clue how to get [himself] online …and actually sell that skill.” Students from varied backgrounds expressed similar hopes. Paul, a tattoo artist, noted that while he once wanted to be known from Bakersfield to Sacramento, he can now advertise his work around the world.
The graduates’ optimism stands in contrast to the reality of the problems that both the local economy and each student face. The cohort of twenty students, with an average age of 31 years, entered the program with an unemployment rate of 95 percent. On average, this cohort of students has been unemployed for 1.5 years, with at least 40 percent of the cohort having been unemployed for two or more years. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Merced’s unemployment rate stands at 12 percent. And the U.S. Census Bureau records its poverty rate at almost 30 percent.
Despite the stagnant economy our graduates face in Merced, many SamaUSA graduates are already finding work online in a variety of fields. Marc for instance, a graphic artist and father of three, has secured an ongoing graphic design contract. Mary has also begun a data entry and research project on Elance.
We are excited to continue our work in Merced in 2014 and beyond. Our program would not have been possible without support from the California Endowment, our partnership with Merced College, and the incredible group of ambitious and driven students in the first cohort. As noted elsewhere, SamaUSA launched this past September at Merced College, making Merced the program’s second pilot location. During the graduation ceremony, twenty students received certificates and laptops for completing the program. Families and friends of the graduates, SamaUSA staff, and Merced College administrators attended the ceremony.
SamaUSA Merced is currently recruiting students for the Spring Cohort which starts in early February. We are also continuing to work with graduates through a weekly SamaCafe held in downtown Merced every Friday to support our alumni and keep them up-to-date with marketplace trends and job leads.
Are you interested in getting involved or learning more about SamaUSA? Visit our website or contact us at SamaUSA@samasource.org.
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