By BEN GRAFTON
At the Walton Area Chamber of Commerce (WACC) First Friday Breakfast at the Lake House in Hammock Bay, there were three very interesting speakers. The first of these was Dianne McManus of Okaloosa Walton Homeless Continuum of Care/Opportunity, Inc. who said, “I grew up in the north end of the (Walton) County. We had good families and if somebody needed something, we kind of pitched in and helped. You kind of think that the homeless is the man on the street sleeping in a cardboard box … for whatever reason… The main problem though is we have families. Just like me and just like you… One of the things I have seen in the last two years is families who have never asked for any type of assistance, who have never had any problems, had an illness, or had a car break down, but then one thing happened and it spiraled into being homeless.”
McManus told of one lady, now a success story, who was abandoned with two small children and who reluctantly admitted they had been living in a car. She feared she would lose her children. She had made really bad decisions early in life and didn’t even have a GED. Today she has her GED and she completed a training a program which allowed her to get a job at the Healthmark Regional Hospital in DeFuniak. She has since told her story on TV Channel 7 and her boss has said she is one of the best employees they have ever had.
McManus also told the audience it is much more economical for Opportunity, Inc. to use donations and taxpayer dollars to keep a family in their home rather than to have them turned out on the street. So, if Opportunity, Inc. can help with the rent and the electricity, and help them to get jobs, that is what they will do.
Unfortunately there is no shelter in Walton County, so an effort is underway to get one or two apartments here where a family can get on a schedule and do their own laundry and cooking. Opportunity, Inc. has people to come in and help them with budgeting and to provide a whole array of services to help them become self-sufficient. That is the goal.
Opportunity, Inc. is looking for other people to pitch in and help. A web site is available at www.okaloosawaltonhomeless.org where viewers can see what they do, volunteer to help or make a donation.
Mike Davis, Principal of the Walton Career Development Center (CDC), was the second speaker. He said, “At the secondary level (high school) there are a lot of things that CDC oversees throughout the (school) district and with Superintendent of Schools Carlene Anderson’s support we now have career academies at all of the high schools in Walton County. And, this year, with the help of a grant from Microsoft Corp. we have opened our first career academy in Internet Technology (IT) at Emerald Coast Middle School.”
Davis continued, “When all of us were in school, we thought of places like CDC as ‘vocational’. … It’s been a hard sell to move away from that vo-tech idea. …You would go there and learn to lay some blocks, or frame a house or work on an engine and you could go out and make a decent living. Things have really changed. Now we use the term, ‘career technical education’. … because of the technology in every field we offer. In the last decade, people are out there working with just a high school degree. Their wages have fallen 12 percent to just about $19,400 per year on average and that’s below the poverty line for a family of four. By 2020 (or earlier according to some studies) about 70 percent of all the jobs are going to require some type of post-secondary education, not just a high school degree. Post-secondary education has become the gateway to the middle class. What we do is build those middle jobs – jobs of about $34,000 per year in salary up to about $95,000. That’s what career technical education is about. We are in the business of helping students succeed in life. We want them to be successful in what takes up the biggest part of the workday.”
Davis said, “Students can stay right here and get a good career education. We can give a jump start or help those students who want to go to college. …students who come to us, complete the program, and take what they have done and transfer credit to the community colleges.”
“We work with the regional workforce boards. We look to see where the jobs are and what they require. We have a partnership with Northwest Florida State. We have a large successful LPN program….they get their LPN, they go back to Northwest Florida State and when they are accepted, their first semester of the RN program is already done.”…
Read the full story in the Oct. 11, 2012 edition of the Herald Breeze.