The United Way Level Up Program held its graduation ceremony on October 23 at the Wicker Park Social Center in Highland, Indiana. United Way’s Level Up Program strives to teach individuals the skills they need to obtain and retain a career as well as providing financial education training.
Adam O’Doherty, president and CEO of United Way of Northwest Indiana, opened up about the process of starting a journey with the program.
“During the program, clients are assigned to one of our navigators,” O’Doherty said. “The navigator then works with the clients one-on-one to help them pick a career pathway that they might be interested in that could provide a livable wage.”
Clients also receive a variety of support services and education opportunities that help them overcome obstacles and achieve their goals.
“Things like childcare, costs for becoming certified, or even purchasing steel toe boots are barriers that get in the way of helping people get to the next level,” O’Doherty said. “Level Up focuses on providing wholistic process to support clients so they can achieve more, so their households will thrive.”
O’Doherty’s hope for the future of Level Up is to grow and help even more families in the Region out of poverty.
“We’ve been building partnership pipelines with the trade unions, other nonprofits and education providers to better serve our clients and recruit more residents into the program. Our goal is to graduate 1,000 people from the program by end of 2025,” O’Doherty said. “If we lift just one person out of poverty, they’ll be lifting with them their children, significant others, parents, siblings, grandparents and more.”
Talisa Rogers-Hall, Level Up navigator and trainer, expressed her excitement for the graduation.
“This is the best event ever,” Rogers-Hall said. “We have a total of 69 students graduating from the program. This is our second annual graduation, and this is also the largest group of graduates we’ve had.”
Rogers-Hall’s role as a navigator is to bring clients into the program, ask them what career path they are interested in and support them in achieving their goals.
“We believe that if we can get people to do what their dream job is, they will stay with their jobs longer,” Rogers-Hall said. “They will have enough money to take care of their families, and they will be happier and more productive people.”
Rogers-Hall noted how big of an impact the Level Up Program has on not only the clients but the overall community.
“This is a life-changing program,” Rogers-Hall said. “We see people who come in distress, and by the end of the program, they are making a livable wage and thriving. We set them up for success. We’ve even had six clients buy their first home because of the support they received from our program.”
James Dye, president of the James W. and Betty Dye Foundation, is a big advocate for education and has invested in United Way’s Level Up Program to increase education access for clients.
“I’m on the board of directors at United Way and was introduced to Talisa, and she really inspired me in be part of this program,” Dye said. “If I give $5,000 to help a client get a trade certification and that person buys a house, the investment return to the community is substantially higher than that $5,000. Philanthropy and charity are different approaches to helping residents in need. Charity is about giving a man a fish and philanthropy is teaching a man to fish. United Way is doing great work as a philanthropic organization.”
Thanks to the Foundation's generous support of the program, the Level Up welding graduates from Strike & Walk Da Cup Welding, LLC, honored Dye with a hand welded grill they made as part of their class project.
Frank Mrvan, representative for the First Congressional District of Indiana, assisted in congratulating and honoring the graduates.
“This event impacts the community in such a positive way,” Mrvan said. “The United Way Level Up Program provides skill sets and holistic support for individuals who just need a little assistance. Once given that assistance through skill set development and the ability to find a career that is self-sustainable, you change people’s lives forever.”
Jaymiere Johnson, certified welder with Strike & Walk Da Cup Welding, LLC, moved to Northwest Indiana from California in 2017 and is one of the graduates in the Level Up Program. Johnson attended the Level Up Program to find a career that would be permanent.
“In the beginning, I wasn’t too fortunate with my financial situation,” Johnson said. “Now through the program and connections with my teachers, I’ve been blessed to receive a few job offers.”
Johnson offers some helpful advice to anyone who might be considering joining the Level Up Program.
“Stay grounded, stay yourself, and be authentic. You have to take care of your business if you want to do other things,” Johnson said. “Make your own decisions based on what you know and what you learn.”
For more information on the United Way Level Up Program and to apply, visit www.unitedwaynwi.org/level-up