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From welfare to a good job

January 05, 1997

By RICHARD F. BELISLE

Staff Writer

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Carol Corcoran knows the difference between being on welfare and being independent, having a secure job and being able to take care of her three children on her own.

For the five years she was on welfare, Corcoran, 30, of Martinsburg, had to learn the skills needed to work through a system heavy with bureaucracy, to stand in line at the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources offices to sign up for Aid to Dependent children or to line up for food stamps.

That was before. Now Corcoran doesn't do windows, she knows them along with other computer skills like Word Perfect 5.1.61, Lotus, Excel, keyboarding and data entry. She's a full-time instructor at Bokonon Systems of West Virginia in its offices at 217 N. Queen St. in Martinsburg.

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The for-profit company trains welfare recipients and veterans for jobs in the fields of computers and office work. Its other office is in Charleston, W.Va.

Corcoran learned her skills as a Bokonon trainee. "Before that, I was just able to get odd jobs, cooking, clerking, jobs what weren't going anywhere," she said. She saw a flyer advertising what Bokonon had to offer. She met the minimum requirements, a high school diploma or a GED. She had no diploma, but she had managed to pick up a GED along the way.

She took the Bokonon test and was admitted to the training program. "It was perfect," she said.

Barbara Fonseca manages Bokonon's Martinsburg office.

She said clients are referred by DHHR or the state Jobs Training Partnership Act. Both agencies pay the $2,500 to $3,500 it costs to run a client through the Bokonon training program.

Clients don't graduate until they are found a job that provides a decent salary and benefits. Clients must also have a driver's license, transportation and child care in hand before leaving Bokonon, all to guarantee that the job will be kept, Fonseca said.

The training resembles actual work conditions, she said. It's designed to train clients for specific jobs, including secretarial work in law and medical offices.

They are trained in office procedures and equipment, learn telephone etiquette, learn how to dress for work and learn the required legal and medical terminology.

"When they leave here, they are ready to go right into an office," Fonseca said.

Jacqueline Alston, 27, of Martinsburg, came to Bokonon to renew her office and computer skills.

A former government worker in Washington, D.C., Alston said she had to go on welfare when she had her baby, who is now four.

She's ready to go back to work now, but needs to renew her skills. Alston said she hopes to get another government job when she completes her Bokonon training.

Welfare reform, which will require all able-bodied recipients to find work, means fewer clients for Bokonon, said Kathryn Bradley, executive director of the local DHHR office. The agency currently has about 15 clients in the training program, Bradley said.

Many welfare recipients won't need the level of training that Bokonon provides to find jobs, she said. "We won't be referring as many people," she said.

Fonseca said she is aware of the changes and has started to recruit veterans into the training program to make up for the loss of welfare clients. She said 10 of Bokonon's 25 current clients are veterans referred by the JTPA program.

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