Getting a helping hand on career choices thanks to MCC Eagles S.O.A.R.

Like most teens, Alexis Lee is weighing her career options.

“I want to do both – nursing and cosmetology,” she said, explaining her reasoning in selecting a dual career, “Hair is something I always could do. Nursing, because I like helping people.”

Lee is one of five student completers from Meridian who are getting help in choosing life’s paths thanks to Meridian Community College Eagles S.O.A.R. - Skills for Occupational Advancement and Readiness program. It is a federally-funded, out-of-school youth program for 16-24 year-olds who have graduated or dropped out of high school. Through S.O.A.R., participants are allowed to get ahead in their career by learning employability skills and gaining credentials for the workforce. In short, students earn paid work experiences and incentives to soar into their future.

Mother of a three and a one-year-old daughters, Sammie Mathis, 22, signed up for SOAR to build a future. “I want to continue my education for them,” she said, noting that she’s interested in pursuing a career in nursing. Brennan Sims, 17, joined S.O.A.R. to get a head start on his education. His goal is to work with computer hard and softwares.

Alexis’ brothers, Darrius Lee, 22, and Anton Lee, 19, also participated, and are interested in medical careers – Darrius, an EMT, and Anton, phlebotomy. “I got deterred, but I decided to go back to school,” said Anton. Darrius said he wanted to better himself, so that’s why he enrolled in S.O.A.R.

The three siblings noted the program was beneficial. “Because with us being young, it’s hard to find good jobs and it’s hard to get an education. When I heard about this opportunity, I said, ‘Yeah. Anything that can better ourselves, then go for it,’” Alexis said.

Both Sims and Mathis are now enrolled in MCC’s Adult Education for 40 hours and then will go onto paid work experience. The Lee siblings will begin their paid work internships in two weeks.

One of the tools the students used to sharpen their financial literacy skills was the Money Smart Financial Education Program created by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. “I learned a lot … most of what stayed with me is saving money,” Alexis said. “I used not to save money at all,” she said. “Things I didn’t know, but I know now,” she said.

Another bonus from the program was gaining teamwork skills. “We all came from different backgrounds, but when we came here (to the S.O.A.R. program), it was a whole group effort. We’d communicate, have fun like we knew each other our entire lives,” Alexis added.

“That’s what it’s all about; networking and building relationships,” said Victoria Liddell, Out of School Youth Program director at Meridian Community College. She told the completers, “when you get into a worksite, we want you to be able to communicate with your supervisors and to your peers.”

Liddell said, in wishing the best for them, not everyone has followed a smooth path. “We’ve all had hiccups in life; I had hiccups. I stopped school, started back to college, and went on to do the things I wanted to do,” she said.

In addition to gaining certificates, the students received $50 for completing the program.

“I think this will be a big impact in our community,” said MCC President Dr. Thomas Huebner. He explained he witnessed the program from a previous institution and knew it would be successful at MCC. “We have the right people here, and they have a passion for the work. That means they care about you and your success, and it just doesn’t get any better than that,” he said to the completers.

He added, “We’re proud of you, and we’re proud for you.”

Photos: Student completer Darrius Lee takes a closer look at his certificate.
Victoria Liddell, back, congratulates siblings Darrius, Anton and Alexis Lee.