College program preps workers for what’s next | Local News

Between the career guidance, financial coaching and food pantry available to clients of the SparkPoint center at Skyline College, it’s no wonder the center’s halls are lined with open doors.

Aimed at helping students at the San Bruno community college and members of the surrounding community hone the wide array of skills needed to advance their careers, the center’s setup as a hub of community resources is by design, said director Chad Thompson.

“We try to make it so there’s no wrong door,” he said.

Though one of the focuses of the center staff is helping clients increase their incomes, Thompson and his team know the path toward their clients’ goals often isn’t limited to completing job applications and preparing for interviews. Which is why in November the center joined forces with the NOVA Job Center, a nonprofit employment and training agency, to fold even more specialized career services into the wide range of resources the center already provides for its clients.

Thompson said it’s not unusual for clients who initially find the center seeking advice on how to find a job with better pay to work with staff on questions of personal finance, such as managing their budgets. He added that many clients aren’t always thinking about how their credit might affect their job prospects, so staff are keenly focused on connecting clients with resources like one-on-one financial coaching and workshops to help them prepare for checks on their credit, which are often a part of the job application process.

Though some clients find the center’s resources as students, Thompson knows from experience their budgets and income often include and involve the help of significant others, friends and family members, to whom the services are also offered.

“None of the students are in a vacuum, they’re all connected to community members also,” he said.

So Thompson and his staff are also focused on helping clients apply for public benefits such as child care and transportation programs as well as assistance in preparing their taxes. By partnering with the Second Harvest Food Bank, the center also connect clients with supplies that can help them meet their immediate needs or, for seniors, supplement a fixed income.

Open to anyone

Though the center’s location on the Skyline College campus makes it a natural fit for students and those considering additional training or certificates, Thompson said its resources are open to anyone in need of an extra boost to get ready for their next step. But for most clients, Thompson has seen a path toward success form when they are able to take advantage of multiple resources the center offers.

“We try to get people to use multiple services because we know that that’s the way that we see the most …. long-term success, but we don’t put requirements on anyone,” he said.

Thompson said the college organized resources it was already offering to the community and added new ones in 2011 under the SparkPoint Center model, an initiative launched by United Way Bay Area. Though he’s seen the model help hundreds of clients advance their careers, he acknowledged the rising cost of housing and other expenses in the region has posed a mounting challenge for clients, many of whom he said are sharing living quarters with several family members to make rent payments or living in a series of temporary housing situations to be able to stay in the area.

“What previously may have been a livable wage job is no longer a livable wage job,” he said. “They could be full-time [workers], but the job they have is not enough to live in this area.”

Though the center is able to refer clients to emergency housing resources and ways they can apply for affordable housing, Thompson said demand for the center’s other resources, such as food pantry access, has increased in recent years as clients increasingly feel the pressure of rising costs.

Meeting unique needs

Kathleen Velasquez, program services coordinator with the NOVA Job Center, said the expansion of the nonprofit employment and training agency’s services to the northern portion of the county is aimed at meeting the unique needs of the county’s workforce. By teaming up with resources already based at Skyline College, Velasquez is hopeful about seeing in action a new model of working with clients — one that is sensitive to the many challenges they may be facing.

For Skyline College student Marjourie Quintanilla, having access to SparkPoint Center resources has made it easier for her to focus on her studies. She now works with clients in the center’s public benefits office to navigate the application process for resources like Medi-Cal or CalFresh. She said many of the clients she works with have never applied for public benefits before and may be intimidated by the process, so she helps them fill out their applications and works with government agencies to ensure clients are efficiently filing them to ease the process for them.

“They’re kind of like surprised and amazed,” she said. “I tell people [about the resources] and they light up and they’re like really? And I’m like yes, they’re right here, just grab them!”

But together with the career resources offered at the NOVA Job Center, staff can maintain a dual focus on working with clients on housing and food resources as well as job search strategies to help them earn more for their skills. Velasquez emphasized that helping clients earn the degrees, certificates or training they need to obtain higher-paying jobs and boost their incomes can also help alleviate the pressure of rising costs in the long term.

“Because income’s very heavily relevant to the housing options people can access … we can help them achieve an income that really helps them expand their housing options in the area,” she said.

Visit the SparkPoint center at Building 1 of Skyline College, 3300 College Drive. Visit for more information.

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(650) 344-5200 ext. 102