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Montco OIC programs continue to expand in Norristown

by Gay Puleo

NORRISTOWN — From forklift operator to nurse’s aide, Montgomery County OIC students are finding their career paths with the sort of intensive affordable training that might not otherwise have been attainable.

Since Dr. Leon Sullivan founded the first OIC (Opportunities Industrialization Center, Inc.) facility in an abandoned jailhouse in Philadelphia 55 years ago, millions of disadvantaged and under-skilled individuals have been equipped with the literacy and job training needed to find employment.

In Norristown, Montgomery County OIC CEO Denise Ashe noted that the focus has shifted during her 21 years with the organization, from assisting adults to offering guidance to younger clients.  

“Adding the youth programs has just given us another avenue to communicate with the younger kids to keep them interested in school and help with their issues so they don’t drop out,” Ashe explained. “We know we’ve done our job,” Ashe added, “if we can keep them in school, keep them educated and having that learning experience throughout the year. So we work with kids all year round now so they realize they need to stay in school and stay focused.”

The core of the ever-expanding guidance opportunities that OIC offers remains the English as a Second Language (ESL) morning and evening classes for those whose native language is not English. The 12-month course is designed to help students better understand the basic structure of the English language as they learn to speak, listen, and write in English, at a cost of $75.

Year-round GED and adult basic education training for individuals looking to obtain their high school equivalency diplomas has been the primary focus here for decades. Pre-testing is available on Monday mornings and Thursday evenings.

“ESL and GED (General Education Diploma) are still our largest programs,” Ashe noted. “The school district no longer offers the GED so If kids are 17 and have dropped out of school they are eligible, even though I always encourage them to stay in school.”

Montgomery County OIC offers free career readiness training for all Montgomery County residents ages 17 to 24.

In April of last year, Montco OIC became an official testing center for the GED exam and for the HiSET exam.

“We are pleased that the testing center is meeting the needs of residents of Montgomery County and surrounding counties as well,” Ashe noted. As interest in the center continues to grow, OIC looks forward to expanding its testing center with several other available certification options.

Those who would like to receive more information or register for the GED test should visit https://ged.com and create an account.

To receive more information or to register for the HiSET test, visit https://hiset.ets.org. The testing center offers testing hours on Monday and Wednesday evening and Saturday.

Certified nurse’s aid training, career readiness training and pre-apprenticeship for age 18 and over will start at the end of February, Ashe explained.

“We have a nurse on staff who does the medical portion of the training. We’re currently looking for a new site because we had been going to the  Chester County OIC but we’d like to develop our own training site, either at Shannondell or the Main Line Health system and we’re waiting for approval right now for that. People are paying $12,000 or more for similar training elsewhere,” she added. “It’s a huge field because retirement communities are always in need of certified nurse’s aides. Once a week we have someone from the Indian Creek Foundation in Souderton come here to interview people who are interested in working in their community. They also have a program where they train people individually who want to work for that organization.”

Much of the $4,000 fee can be covered for students, Ashe said.

“Individuals who go through the training can get up to $3,400 from the county, and they may qualify for the Snap assistance program, which would bring the fee down to about $80. We’re just looking to cover our own costs to provide these services and not charge $12,000 like these other programs are.”

For a $75 fee students can become nationally certified forklift operators, Ashe noted.

“We work with them after their training to get them into a position, helping them with researching jobs and preparing resumes,” Ashe said. “Those taking our Project Management class can get a credit hour from Montgomery County Community College  if they want to go to college.”

When OIC of America Inc. was founded, the Philadelphia-based nonprofit network of employment and training programs was geared to helping the disadvantaged find their place in the work force.

The rapid acceptance of that flagship organization resulted in OIC training centers like Montgomery County OIC (Montgomery County Opportunities Industrialization Center) popping up across the country.

According to its website, montcooic.org, Montgomery County OIC opened its doors in 1965 in the old Winfield S. Hancock Schoolhouse on Arch Street as the second of what has now grown to more than 30 affiliates in 22 states, with the mission to “help others help themselves” with job training courses in auto mechanics, masonry, concrete, carpentry, electrical work, plumbing, the culinary arts, engineering and basic education.

When the vocational technical school was launched in the Norristown Area School District, OIC switched gears at its facility — which is now listed on National Register of Historic Places in Pennsylvania — to providing courses in typing, GED, ESL and adult basic education.

In addition to the pre-apprenticeship and computer literacy programs, OIC offers before- and after-school learning and science/technology summer enrichment camp.

The OIC Pre-Apprenticeship Program, made possible by federal workforce and job development grants, has partnered with a local labor union to offer free training in the construction trades, including carpentry, electrical, drywall/painting and plumbing.

Camp Xtreme at Montgomery County OIC is an 8-week STEM program available for ages 7 to 14 years old. The all-inclusive camp provides kids with a safe and fun environment when school is out, with full day care, meals, activities and field trips. Camp Xtreme opens registration on March 1st. Returning parents are guaranteed a space for their child if they register before April 1st.

Camp Xtreme and GlaxoSmithKline provide campers with weekly  hands-on science learning activities taught by scientists from GSK.

Camp Xtreme and non-profit Greener Partners teamed up at OIC to offer outdoor science projects with gardening. The Greener Partners staff works closely with students in OIC’s urban garden developed by The Norristown Project to help them learn about farming.  Campers are given an opportunity to take home fresh vegetables and fruits grown in the garden each week, as well as a healthy recipe provided by Greener Partners.

For more information, visit www.MontcoOIC.org.


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