“Honestly, I’m really nervous,” 24-year-old Mark would repeat numerous times as he told his story. In the end, it was his captive audience of almost 70 people who would be in shivers. His story was powerful.
“Growing up, I was taught to go to school and stay focused, but I faced a lot of challenges,” he said at the Feb. 7 launch of two Broward College Transformational Justice Programs in Fort Lauderdale. He told the audience he got the opportunity to play football and thought that would be his future, but an injury put an end to those dreams.
“I got my high school diploma, but I did not get a chance to go any further. After high school I faced a lot of challenges, some of them were because of my own poor choices.” Fortunately for Mark, his story did not end in despair. One of those poor decisions would allow him to cross paths with the Broward College Court to College Diversion Program, and now, Mark is one of three students enrolled in the program since it started in October 2022. He is pursuing a logistics and transportation specialist technical certificate.
“I can’t wait to see what my future holds from this. I feel so encouraged by the people I have encountered through the program and the people I met this morning. It is like I have a new family,” he said.
Expanding on the mission
Broward’s two Transformational Justice programs — the Court to College Diversion Program and the Corrections to College Program — expand on the Florida college’s mission to “transform lives and enrich our diverse community through academic excellence, innovation, and meaningful career opportunities,” by providing access to free post-secondary training for people involved in the legal system.
Working with partner organizations – the Broward County State Attorney and the Broward County Defender’s Office – the Court to College program allows first-time offenders charged with a third-degree felony or lower offense to avoid a criminal conviction by having their case diverted from the trial court process. They provide the opportunity to instead earn a technical certificate in a high-demand industry.
One unique approach to this program is that there are also courses open to the defendant as well as the listed victim. Defendants who participate can earn one of three industry-recognized certifications – automotive service technician, marine technician, or logistics and transportation specialist. Any one of these areas of study would connect participants with in-demand jobs across Broward County. The listed victim can, if they choose, receive support to pursue courses through the Open Door and Rapid Credential grants.
The Corrections to College Program, which serves women in the last 18 months of their sentence, is a partnership with the Department of Corrections. It will serve women housed at the Hollywood Community Release Center, allowing participants to successfully transition back to the community by training in high-demand areas to join the workforce upon release.
The 60-Day programs are offered in-person and through BC Online Live. Courses include Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt certification, supply chain certification, marketing, and Amazon Web Services cloud practitioner technical essentials.
Mark, whose ultimate goal is to pursue a career as an EMT, is optimistic his life will be forever changed as a result of this opportunity and encourages everyone who has the opportunity to engage in one of these programs to do so. “Although I am juggling two jobs and taking classes, it is creating in me the discipline I need to succeed. They have an incredibly supportive team and I know I can do this.”
This article was originally published here.