Program continues to open doors for minority, low-income students


Emily Pasley, Lamp writer

Anthony Newman, 28, recently completed the truck driving program on his way to earning his Class A CDL.

“I wouldn’t be where I’m at today if it wasn’t for the Open Door program,” said Newman, a recent LLCC alumnus. “They are giving people not only the opportunity, but the connections to fields that are sometimes hard to get into.”

Newman was in inaugural Open Door Workforce Equity Initiative program, which offered free tuition, a stipend for living expenses, money for transportation and resources for child care. The program focuses on short-term certificate program that will quickly put student in high-demand jobs.

Lincoln Land recently received funding to continue the program, starting a new group of students in January 2021. Open Door allowed 150 low-income or minority students to enroll for spring in training, such as welding, auto repair and even healthcare-based programs including Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) training.

Candace Silas, assistant vice president of student success and director of the funding initiative, said: “75% of the students involved in the initiative must be African American.”

Besides this, there are technically no requirements in order to be a part of and stay in the program, but it is intended for minority and low-income students. The Open Door Program wants to give students, who may not have the financial means on their own, the education and resources in order to be successful in a realistic career. Keep in mind that each career training program has different stipulations in order to pass and receive the proper certification, so students must remain active and enrolled in their courses, as well as continuing to meet the standards. The initiative has a high success and graduation rate, with many students going directly into the workforce.

“We want to give these students opportunities that may not have been previously available to them,” Silas said.

Silas made clear that the program will cover all areas of concern. Aside from taking care of tuition and other educational expenses, the funding initiative also includes transportation if needed, as well as childcare.

“The initiative will cover any costs students may run into while at Lincoln Land,” said Silas.

Students will also work closely with educators and advisors in order to reach the full potential of their academic success. Silas and Brandon Lewis, the program navigator, assist students in finding their passions, as well as helping them to reach their goals through the program.

“This is one of the most intimate programs I’ve seen at LLCC,” Lewis said.

Since the program is targeted towards low-income and minority students, these individuals will receive the certification and education that allows them to enter the workforce almost immediately while making a livable wage.

“It has given the opportunity for individuals to click restart in their lives, where most can’t,” Lewis continued.

The initiative was started by the Illinois Community College Board. The board offered the funds to 48 Illinois community colleges, Lincoln Land being one of them.

The Open Door Workforce Initiative branches off of the highly regarded Open Door Mentorship Program at Lincoln Land. Originally funded through the Q5 initiative from the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, the mentorship program helped African-American male students by supporting their education inside and outside the classroom. With similar goals to the initiative, tuition was waived for those involved. Advisers for the programs were also available to help students involved reach their full potential.

“The Q5 initiative invested money into programs or initiatives in the community,” said CEO and president of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, Chris Hembrough.

Without the initial Q5 initiative from the Chamber of Commerce, there would be no Open Door program. According to Hembrough, the Chamber has worked with Lincoln Land for years and will continue to. Proud of the Chamber’s decision to work with the school, Hembrough spoke highly of the Open Door program, specifically the mentorship program.

“They’re providing opportunities for minority students to be connected with businesses, as well as education at Lincoln Land.”

Although the Mentorship program is currently on a hiatus, Silas added that LLCC is looking to expand the Open Door program as a whole. They are focusing on the Workforce Initiative at the moment, but hope to bring back the Mentorship program in the coming months.

Anyone who feels ready to take the leap in getting involved with the Open Door Workforce Equity Initiative for next year can contact Candace Silas, the director of the initiative, [email protected] or Brandon Lewis, program navigator, [email protected].

Newman not only spoke highly of the Open Door program and its leaders, but also of the quality of education he received through LLCC’s truck driving program.

“I was able to have hands-on driving training by instructors who were also semi-truck drivers, so they give you the real everyday experiences that you would endure out on the road,” said Newman, who is now working as a truck driver.