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“Is that the same size? Is it slim or regular fit? Do they have other colors?”
A young man in business slacks and a button-down shirt checked his look in a full-length mirror while Justin Melis, Business Developer at our Education and Workforce program, peppered him with questions.
“I think they’ve got blue,” the student replied. “Let me go see.” He disappeared back into the racks, searching for just the right look to give him confidence in a job interview.
These GED and pre-GED students were buying business clothes—with a little help from E&W staff. Polo shirts or collared shirts with nice pants were the order of the day. “You don’t need a suit for a lot of interviews these days,” Melis explained. “And these guys are still growing. You don’t want to drop a lot of money on a suit you can’t wear in a year.”
Another student approached the dressing room, arms laden with clothes. “My ‘fit is 80 dollars but we gotta figure out the pants,” he said.
“Dude, the grey looked dope with this. The black is gonna look basic!” Melis said, sorting through the pants.
The students had $150 each in gift cards, supplied by the program’s professional development budget. They all came over to the giant Newport Centre mall in Jersey City on NJ transit together, along with Education and Workforce staff. The young men and women shopped separately, then gathered to have lunch in the food court together.
“Today is a business trip but to be taken out of state for it is amazing,” said student Joey Candelaria. “I got myself some nice button downs. I enjoyed it.”
Candelaria followed his older brother to the GED program at the Isaacs Center to get his high school degree. “I was in school, I kinda enjoyed it but I didn’t really like it so I decided hey, I’m gonna give this program a chance,” he recalled. He found he really liked both the staff and the opportunity to do paid internships: “I was able to buy so many cool things, like a skateboard; I got my mom so many gifts and then I got stuff for my grandma and my cousins. And all the teachers are nice to me.”
As he looks forward to graduation, he’s still trying to pin down what comes next: Firefighting? Law school? Health care? “It’s the picture of what I’m able to learn that inspires me to keep going,” he said. “If I didn’t have this program and I was somewhere else, I probably wouldn’t be as energetic as I am here.”
At the next table over, Jashica Morrison, who goes by Jayda, was having lunch with some program staff. Morrison is 23, with a seven-year-old son. She came here after scheduling difficulties made high school impossible.
“My son kept getting sick and I couldn’t bring him to daycare and I couldn’t leave him in the house by himself,” she explained. “I kept staying home and staying home and staying home. Eventually I just stayed home all the way and I couldn’t go back to school. They told me to go to a program or an alternative school.”
Morrison said it took a while to find the right place to finish her degree, but the Isaacs Center was it: “I’ve been doing my own thing by myself and I needed a lot of help. I just needed motivation. When I need that, they’re here for me. I actually care for their opinions. I care for their guidance.”
When she graduates, she’d like to join the Education and Workforce staff and help other young people like her.
“I stuck here, and they stuck beside me. I’m a little handful!” she laughed. “They stuck beside me. I really do see them as my family.”