D.C. Council member David Grosso meets with AmeriHealth Caritas employees and interns from its Pathways to Work program at the Wilson Building in the District. (Kea Taylor)
D.C. Council member David Grosso meets with AmeriHealth Caritas employees and interns from its Pathways to Work program at the Wilson Building in the District. (Kea Taylor)

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Fourteen African-American women recently got the graduation they never thought they would have — one they hope will lead to steady employment and stability.

AmeriHealth Caritas graduated on May 22 the first group of students from its internship program launched last winter.

The private initiative was launched by AmeriHealth Caritas to assist D.C. residents over the age of 18 with at least one child enter the job market by helping them develop employable skills. No prior experience was necessary, although applicants are asked to prepare a resume and pass a drug test and background check.

“We see that we have this big class gentrification that’s going on, you see people who have extreme amounts of wealth and you have people who have none,” said Charisse Vickerie, an AmeriHealth account executive. “We wanted to give them that opportunity to step into the middle class, what was blocking them from having these jobs before.”

Despite rising incomes and increased employment opportunities across the city in recent years, unemployment remains high in the city’s poorest neighborhoods and for residents with a college degree.

The 12-week Pathways to Work program integrates basic computer and customer service skills in tandem with paid internships at AmeriHealth Caritas District of Columbia in areas such as member engagement and communications and marketing. The workplace readiness initiative also helps participants receive a certification from YWCA NCA’s hospitality program.

Though the program is open to men and women, only women participated in the first session, with ages ranging from 21 to 42.

Participants discussed how their experience in the program was helping them defeat unemployment and rise above tough circumstances with at-large Council member David Grosso in a roundtable in April.

“I feel like this a second chance for me,” said Diamond Bedney, 23, who became a mother at 16 and failed at two attempts at college. She said before the program,she held a number of minimum-wage jobs that did not support her and her two children.

She said she is now in the hiring process for a position as a care connector with the company, a position with an average base salary of $45,000, according to Glassdoor. The salary will exceed the $17 per hour Bedney said she would need to cover her expenses, which she learned during the program’s financial literacy session.

“I’m happy. My daughters are happy. I don’t have much to complain about,” Bedney said.

Several students fought back tears during the meeting with Grosso as they shared stories of battling homelessness, foster care and a revolving door of dead-end and minimum-wage jobs.

Octavia Jackson, 26, said she began her new job May 1 because of the program.

“I think this is a great way to learn from each other and work together to try and improve our city,” said Grosso during the roundtable. “I hope each one of you gets full-time employment out of this opportunity, but more than that, an opportunity to grow, just as people.”

The program will open its door to another group of students in September and is poised to accept students for the city’s Marion Barry Summer Youth employment program.

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