New Berkeley Career Express program brings resources straight to the community helping residents in rural Berkeley County to continue education, prepare for employment, and seek assistance in becoming work ready.

The Berkeley Career Express (BCE) program, funded by a Google Data Center Community Affairs Grant, is a collaboration with the Chamber of Commerce, Library System, and the Department of Adult and Community Education. The program is designed to enhance digital literacy skills in the communities of St. Stephen, Cross, Alvin and Long Ridge.

Elaine Morgan, CEO Berkeley Chamber of Commerce states, “Through the Chamber’s Rural Initiative and from our eight rural meetings it was identified that jobs and education were the top concerns from the residents. Meeting with Google to discuss the lack of computer access, they became the catalyst for the Berkeley Career Express program.”

On Tuesday, January 10th, more than 50 residents of St. Stephen gathered at St. Stephen Elementary School to register for the first round of the Berkeley Career Express program. Those in attendance were anxious to take the next step in preparing for employment. Several attendees noted they wanted to obtain their GED, needed to improve their Work Keys score or train specifically for employment with new area employers such as VIVA.

Providing a digital device for participants was an essential component of the BCE program. Twenty-one participants, who had a valid library card, were able to borrow a Chromebook and Wi-Fi unit to study and prepare at home during their enrollment. Gene Brunson, Director of the Berkeley County Library System, comments, “The eight-week training series will be held in one community at a time, beginning with St. Stephen. After all four community programs, the digital devices and resources will be given back to community leaders to develop their own training site for future programs and development. We want them to know we are here for them during and after the program. We want to make sure they have the necessary tools to continue to provide their residents with training programs and resources even after the BCE program.”

On the night of March 28th, community leaders, families and friends gathered to celebrate the thirty-eight BCE students with a graduation ceremony. Speakers included Mayor John Rivers, principle of St. Stephen Elementary Dr. Elaine Norton, library director Gene Brunson, and retired IGA owner and community champion Mr. Eddie Brown.

Mayor John Rivers comments, “The Town of St. Stephen is elated over the recent developments in a new industry coming to our Town and now a program to assist our residents at being more work-ready.”

Several of the speakers commented on the large number of graduates. “I was so thrilled at the turnout for our first night.  Berkeley County Adult Education is enthusiastic about this program for the Berkeley County residents and working with them to prepare for the job market,” expressed by Dr. Lillie Caldwell, Director of Adult Community Education. Dr. Caldwell explains, “We were hoping to have at least 20 people interested. We did not expect to have 50 that first night.”

Among the graduates were sisters, Norma Russel and Margaret Conaway, both of whom crossed the stage for their certificate with joyful smiles and homemade graduation caps. Conway tears up while talking about how this program brought them closer together. “We did not grow up together. This was the first time we could go to school together. To share this experience as sisters, encouraging one another, is something special.” Conaway also talks about the complexity of the program, “I didn’t think I would make it through the whole thing. I have been out of school for so long. The math was really challenging.” She says she has become a fixture at the St. Stephen Library going in everyday to study. She has even volunteered to help the next BCE graduating class make their own caps.

The next Berkeley Career Express program is set to begin in late April for the residents of Cross. For more information about BCE and how you can register to participate, visit http://berkeleylibrarysc.org/berkeley-career-express/